On the Outer Banks, talking about the weather is not merely a way to make conversation. It’s a local obsession. We can get pretty nerdy about it too. Upper-level disturbances, wind speeds, tide charts, satellite models — these are the stuff of intense conversation around here. Favorable buoy readings can make us positively giddy. If not for the southern twang and the overuse of the word “dude,” you’d think we were actual scientists.

The Outer Banks, you see, has many moods: sunny, stormy, muggy, soft, bitter, spectacular, dangerous. And the ability to read and anticipate those moods is an essential element of happiness here. Coastal weather changes fast, and the window of opportunity for seizing the day is narrow. You need to be prepared.

Moody black and white photograph of clouds over the beach in outer banks, North Carolina

Clear water and blue skies? Bust out the snorkel and go wreck diving. Oppressive dog days of August? Stand by for an all-night electric light show over the ocean, with a soundtrack of rumbling thunder, better than any fireworks display you’ll ever see. Bone-chilling nor'easter battering the beach with damp wind and angry seas? Surf should be pumping tomorrow, and a new cache of sea-glass will surely have washed ashore. Unseasonably warm December temperatures in the mid-70s, the ocean calm as a lake? Join the motley assortment of skiffs, kayaks, and commercial rigs a mile offshore, hauling in red drum as fast as they can throw out a line. Category 3 hurricane bearing down? Pray it tracks offshore and brings epic surf, but prepare for landfall. Crank up the generator, stock up on beer, open your house to friends in need. Nobody wants to ride out a hurricane alone.

In earlier days, the allure of year-round life on the Outer Banks was a well-kept secret. The few, the proud, the insane who chose to stay here at summer’s end, we had it all to ourselves. In supermarkets and post offices on glorious off-season afternoons, we would greet each other with knowing smiles, swap fish tales, boast of gnarly surf sessions, share news of impending severe weather. A pride of place, sense of belonging to something special, kept us warm through the bitter and sometimes desolate days that we accepted as a trade-off for all the gifts this sandbar has to offer.

Black and white photo of a surfer in the middle of a wave

But now the secret’s out. Over the years, the Outer Banks has become a well-known destination for fishing, surfing, kiteboarding, beach combing, and just getting away from it all. Our population has been steadily rising, more restaurants and bars are staying open year-round, and we’ve become one of the top wedding destinations in the country. The OBX is now a metropolis of sorts, complete with Starbucks, rush hours, fine dining, and a vibrant music scene.

Black and white image of a surfer at the crest of a wave

For the most part, we’ve taken these changes in stride. Sure, we love to complain about the summer traffic, and veterans of earlier times love to talk about what it was like back in the day. But growth has its upsides. In the old days, if you wanted to live here, your employment opportunities were pretty much limited to restaurant work, construction, and commercial fishing. But in the new economy, local entrepreneurs have flourished: yoga studios, spas, landscapers, photographers, wedding planners, surf schools — even musicians can make a living plying their trade full-time, year-round. Now, with a little ingenuity and perseverance, an enterprising soul seeking a place in paradise can open up a yogurt shop, or an art gallery, or a graphic design service, and make a living doing something they love. And for visitors, that means more options for a better experience at the beach. Have a chef come to your house and prepare a gourmet feast for your family. Get a massage. Learn to surf. Go horseback riding. The possibilities are endless.

Still, the greatest attraction of the Outer Banks has never changed: this wild, moody, ever-changing strip of sand remains a sanctuary of sorts, a place to escape the rat race, a place to experience raw nature in all her glory, whether it be stormy, steamy, or pitch-perfect and sun-dappled. And if you open yourself up to its boundless charms, you may find yourself browsing the property listings, and dreaming of carving out your own little corner of paradise here. Just make sure to brush up on your meteorology before you commit.

May 11, 2022 — Molly Szkotak