CAPE LOOKOUT — Hurricane Dorian in early September cut more than 50 new inlets through North Core Banks, and Cape Lookout National Seashore Superintendent Jeff West said Thursday it’s going to be a long time before the fragile banks return to anything like normal.

“It’s a day-by-day thing,” Mr. West said. “This week we’ve been getting high tides and swells from Hurricane Lorenzo offshore and that’s given us quite a bit of additional flow.

“Some of these new inlets are passable (by pedestrians and vehicles) out at their mouths, where they meet the ocean, but some are still very deep on the back (sound side) of the islands.”

One of the new inlets, near mile marker 9, is 9 feet deep at times – navigable – and Mr. West said boaters are using it to get to and from Core Sound and the ocean.

“We’re just going to take it week by week and keep looking at what’s going on,” Mr. West said.

“We’ve opened it all (the whole seashore) for private vessels, and we’re hoping to get some limited access for ferry service (from Morris Marina in Atlantic) for vehicles soon. But we’re urging anyone who comes over to be very cautious.”

He’s particularly concerned some boaters might pull up at one place at low tide, then move around on land and not be able to get back to their boats at high tide.

“Everyone should just be very careful and pay attention to what’s going on,” he said.

Although these kinds of inlet-cutting events are not unheard of – an unnamed hurricane in 1933 did much the same thing, Mr. West said – this a unique situation in the history of Cape Lookout since it became a part of the National Park Service and ferry services began bringing large numbers of visitors, many of whom are not as familiar with the banks as area residents.

“We get ocean over wash (from storms), but this wasn’t over wash,” Mr. West said. “There was such a huge volume of water moving down from Pamlico Sound that it just blew out the back of the islands in places. It was really unusual.”

Greg Rudolph, manager of the Carteret County Shore Protection Office, agreed.

He said a friend who lives on Ocracoke Island called him Sept. 6 as Hurricane Dorian moved past and told him another friend had called from Rodanthe, farther north up the Outer Banks, to tell him Pamlico Sound was bone dry, a “mud flat,” with all the water pushed out by the hurricane.

From that call, Mr. Rudolph said Thursday, it was obvious to him that portions of Core Banks were going to take a major hit from Dorian, because the water was going to come back and head south and west when the wind shifted after the western eyewall of the storm, near the shore, moved on.

Still, Mr. Rudolph doubts any of the North Core Banks inlets, save maybe one or two, will be permanent.

They usually fill in pretty fast, he said.

“My advisor at East Carolina University when I was in school, (renowned coastal geologist Dr.) Stan Riggs, said they shouldn’t be called ‘inlets,’ they should be called ‘outlets,’” he said.

On a macro level, Mr. Rudolph said, this isn’t an unusual occurrence for low-lying barrier islands during a hurricane.

“It’s par for the course,” he said. “That water has to get out, and that’s what it does. It’s the way the system works. It finds a way.”

On a micro level, in Carteret County, Mr. Rudolph said, it is almost unprecedented. But, he added that’s what happens when so much water gets pushed from Pamlico Sound and Core Sound, essentially forming an inland sea, almost unique in the U.S. to North Carolina.

“It’s one thing when water gets pushed around in the small sounds we have in the southern part of the coast,” he said. “It’s another when it’s ‘Pamlico Ocean.’”

Meanwhile, Mr. West said he’s been very pleased by the progress made to repair infrastructure and structures within the seashore.

“We had a lot of help from all over the country,” he said.

Initial reports after Dorian indicated 38 historic structures at the seashore’s Portsmouth Village on South Core Banks, the former home of many Carteret County residents and their ancestors, sustained some kind of flood or wind-related damages.

Those have now been stabilized and cleaned out, Mr. West said, but will remain closed for the rest of 2019.

The National Park Service Incident Management Team demobilized last week. The team began its response to Hurricane Dorian Sept. 3, two days before the Category 1 storm made landfall around Cape Hatteras, and has planned for and worked on stabilization efforts at Cape Lookout since then.

According to an update Wednesday, it’s still risky to travel on North Core Banks.

If someone’s out there and gets hurt, “Emergency Response will be difficult, with long response times. Travel North Core beaches at your own risk!,” reads the website for the seashore.

The Long Point Cabin area remains closed to the public, and park staff and support services will not be available for the rest of the year. There is no bath house, and restrooms. Water, ice, fuel or any of the regular amenities available until further notice.

North Core, South Core, and Shackleford Banks are, however, open for day use and camping, according to the website, and South Core Banks is open to all visitors for beach driving and vehicle camping.

Water has been restored to South Core Banks and Shackleford Banks. All restrooms, water-fill stations and rinse-off showers on those islands are functional.

Additionally, according to the Cape Lookout website:

•    Great Island Cabin Camp is open, with hours of operation from 8 a.m. until 3 p.m.

•    The Keepers Quarters Museum is open from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

•    The Light Station Visitor Center is open those same hours.

•    Due to the new inlets that have formed across the natural barrier island, many of which are only passable at low tide, there (are) only about 10 miles of accessible beach from an area called Chadwick Cut to the south of the ferry drop-off to Swash Inlet at Ramp 9.

The website warns visitors to check weather forecasts, ocean tide charts and prepare any equipment for isolated beach travel ahead of any trip. Visitors should also watch out for storm debris, prepare by bringing water and food and plan to pack out all trash.

Although the damage from Dorian occurred just after Labor Day, the end of peak tourism season along the North Carolina coast, Mr. West said he realizes it was an inopportune time for businesses in Down East Carteret County that depend on the seashore.

Fishermen and campers flood the area in the fall, usually through October and through mid-November, and the storm will cut some of that traffic.

He said he hopes NPS efforts to repair damage will draw visitors late in the fishing season.

Contact Brad Rich at 252-864-1532; email; or follow on Twitter @brichccnt.

(11) comments


Rangers. Cops everywhere.

David Collins

My thoughts are that do we really have to micro manage everything? These sacrificial barrier islands are what holds back some of nature’s fury. How about letting them do their jobs, unhindered by well meaning but misguided humans. Oh, I know, you want to have a manicured people friendly, predictable beach , for the sunburned hoards that descend upon it yearly. You also want to have plenty of projects to justify your staffing. Imagine that. Used to be that the allure of these barrier islands was the remoteness, untouched by human hands with unusual wildlife living as nature intended. Now it is just another engineered park where things are done in an orderly fashion with the wildness excluded. If new inlets have formed, so what! They will come and go with time and tides. Help from humans is neither needed or helpful. Leave well enough alone. Spend any monies propagating ponies and cows.

D Snow

I couldn't agree more Mr. Collins.


Have you been on Portsmouth? There is no controlling Mother Nature there. Some simple cabins and little more. Hoards of people? I think not. You would gave us believe it’s Myrtle beach. It’s a beautiful place, barely touched by man. Take your story to the populated towns with homes built to the tide lines but leave these alone.


They took off the wild cattle and sheep off the islands. Burned the cottages down. Dr. Moore had a cottage there, as did his nurse, Edna. Some others as well. They were burned down. Now there are outhouses, board walks, a shop and other tourist things. As usual, just another commercial entity. Nothing unique here any more. Just made in China.


They are in violation of state law. The weight of all the camps is causing the islands to sink. Then the so-called scientists are saying that is evidence of global warming and climate change. Too much has been built on the islands.

Surf fisherman

Obviously NC Native Son and Mr Collins have no idea whatsoever about the Core Banks . There are no sunburned hoards of tourists. There are not too many buildings built on these islands. . A few Government cabins, a light house, and a deserted village are all that is that is man made on these islands. The people that that love this unspoiled wilderness ,travel by ferry to these islands , a few at a time , taking everything we need to stay for a while with us. Aided by the dedicated ferry owners who love this little bit of paradise and protect it as if it was their own, we are given the opportunity to enjoy nature and It’s beauty as few can. We take everything we need with us and when we leave , we leave only a few footprints and tire tracks in the sand. Visit a place before you give an opinion that has no basis in fact. You’ve described the tourist traps that exist just about everywhere else except in this little piece of heaven that so many of us sportsman dearly cherish.

David Collins

The only structures allowed are their structures. That way they can control most everything, except the weather.

David Collins

These comments are in reference to the shack. Fortunately the northern banks, by being fairly inaccessible have been spared the hoards. For now. Sadly, the N C seashore parks live or die by the tourist numbers that rule the funding game. Yup, the folks in Raleigh do call the shots and they do want their facilities well attended. Sort of like publish or perish in academia. National Seashore parks, not so much but all that can change with the stroke of a pen.


The Core Banks are a National Park not a State Park. Raleigh does not have any jurisdiction over on the Banks

David Collins

That is correct, Osprey. Thank goodness.

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