Be prepared for dangerous conditions if you plan to visit North Carolina’s Outer Banks this Memorial Day weekend.
Strong winds are creating surreal dust storms on the islands, prompting a gale warning that will last into the three-day holiday weekend.
Sands flying at 50 mph on Wednesday, May 24, were thick enough to impact driving on NC 12, the only highway connecting the barrier islands, according to the N.C. Department of Transportation.
We are currently experiencing strong sustained winds along NC12 on Pea Island that are blowing sand onto the highway. NCDOT crews will be out clearing the sand periodically all week, so please drive carefully and give them room to work. Thank you for your patience! pic.twitter.com/cLPIgHrBtT— NCDOT NC12 (@NCDOT_NC12) May 24, 2023
“We are currently experiencing strong sustained winds along NC12 on Pea Island that are blowing sand onto the highway,” the NCDOT posted on Facebook.
“Crews will be out clearing the sand periodically all week, so please drive carefully and give them room to work.”
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A gale warning is in effect until midday Saturday, May 27, with 28 mph to 40 mph winds and gusts as high as nearly 52 mph.
“Strong winds will cause hazardous seas which could capsize or damage vessels and reduce visibility,” the National Weather Service said.
Deteriorating weather conditions look likely late this week as a strong coastal storm develops to our south. Inland wind gusts of 35-40 mph Friday into Saturday could exceed 50 mph offshore. Weekend beach vacationers and boaters: please remain weather-aware! #ncwx #scwx pic.twitter.com/aFjaYXB4jK— NWS Wilmington NC (@NWSWilmingtonNC) May 24, 2023
Rain will arrive Thursday night and storm chances will build to 80% through Saturday, with 2 to 4 inches expected, forecasters say. “Locally heavier amounts” are possible by Monday.
“This will bring a threat for localized flooding, and excessive runoff across the area this weekend. In addition this system will bring the potential for several coastal threats including rough surf, localized ocean overwash, minor coastal flooding and an elevated rip current risk,” forecasters say.
The ocean will also be risky, with strong currents capable of sweeping “swimmers and surfers into rip currents, piers, jetties and other hazardous areas,” officials say. Waves as high as 14 feet may be seen Saturday.
“In many cases, the longshore current is strong enough to prevent swimmers from being able to keep their feet on the bottom making it difficult to return to shore,” the NWS says.