In a million years, I would never picture myself shoveling my truck out of the snow on the Outer Banks, home of marlin fishing and bikini contests.
I would never imagine setting off into a January storm and hitting deeper snow with every mile I drove east, until finally reaching the coast to find pumpkin-sized chunks of ice floating in Roanoke Sound.
I would never expect to find U.S. 64 nearly impassable east of the Scuppernong River, so icy and choked with snow that I spun out and fish-tailed into a deep bank – blocking the highway in both directions for a full five minutes.
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But that upside-down scenario describes the North Carolina coast after Wednesday night’s wrecking ball of winter weather that scarcely touched the Triangle by comparison.
Jockey’s Ridge, where the Wright brothers first took flight, looked like a miniature alp.
Croatan Highway, the main north-south road through Nags Head, lay beneath a sheet of thick ice that sent cars skidding through stoplights.
And Mike Resch, a boat captain, found his 66-footer bound for Florida hopelessly frozen in at Pirates Cove Marina.
“We’re here till it thaws,” he said. “Pretty crazy.”
On U.S. 64, one of the main highways crossing the state, salt brine laid the night before the storm provided almost zero help. Some stretches of the beach route appeared never to have seen a plow. Gas stations along the way ran dry or stayed shuttered to cold drivers.
At one point near Jamesville, I attempted to pass a plow that was clearing a single lane through a completely white highway. But I couldn’t squeeze past without pushing into snow halfway up my tire. So I followed for 40 miles at 25 mph – maximum speed.
Once across the icy sound, the beach presented itself as a deserted wasteland. Even Taco Bell closed. A few brave shoppers skidded into Food Lion.
Near 3 p.m., Danielle Vena and her 10-year-old daughter, Autumn, emerged from their cocoons for the first time Thursday, running together over the snowy dunes, then describing their night being wakened by 70 mph wind gusts.
“It sounded like the window was going to break,” said Vena. “The booming and the thunder and the lightning. I’ve never really heard thunder in the winter before.”
They woke to find their collectible souvenir rocks frozen to the porch.
From the 6th floor of the Comfort Inn, I can see the snowfall stretching nearly to the waves, more of it topping the roof at Jeannette’s Pier.
On Friday, hopefully, this madness will fade, the obstacles to sunshine will melt and the Earth will resume its normal course.