Two Houses Fall Into Ocean At Adored Outer Banks Surf Break - Stab Mag
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This house was worth $381,200 according to Zillow. Photo: Cody Hammer

Two Houses Fall Into Ocean At Adored Outer Banks Surf Break

Climate change or piss-poor planning?

news // May 11, 2022
Words by Holden Trnka
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Yesterday, two unoccupied houses on the Cape Hatteras National Seashore fell into the ocean.  

For those of you unfamiliar, Cape Hatteras is a part of the Outer Banks, a narrow chain of barrier islands (composed mostly of sand) that run over half the length of the North Carolina coastline.  It’s also the locale that turned Brett Barley into a certified tube-wizard

The islands extend nearly 30 miles into the ocean at some points and are exposed to the full force of the Atlantic’s notorious nor’easter storms. While this can often make for dark, gaping tubes, the storms also lead to rampant flooding and a perpetually receding beachline — an issue that is quickly becoming a logistical nightmare.

Through the weekend, a late-season nor’easter has been lurking over the island, battering residents with onshore wind and road closures. It has now begun gobbling houses.

Little wedge off the foyer though. Photo: Cody Hammer

In February, a house fell into the ocean in similar fashion, and the two today are just another example of what many have been expecting for a while.

“In the 30’s, the CCC came in and built a dune line, which spans the whole island.  Essentially they came in and tried to tell the ocean to stop, and now we’re a hundred years into an experiment, and we’re paying the price,”  says local photographer Daniel Pullen. “ Most of the locals’ houses are back in the woods, but there’s a whole economy based on tourists coming in and wanting to live on the ocean.  I totally get it, but this was always going to happen.”

To an outsider, it certainly seems like the obvious culprit is climate change. But maybe that’s oversimplifying things.

Considering the island is essentially just a very long sandbar, it seems inevitable that hundreds of years of storms would shift the composition and landscape of the island, regardless of human involvement.

Daniel elaborates:

“We’re a barrier island, and the island is due to migrate slowly to the west, so if you built a house 30 or 40 years ago that might have had a couple dunes and some beach in front of it, that beach is gone now. You could attribute it to climate change, but it’s more complicated than that. It definitely plays a role, but it’s the easy answer. If you looked at those houses a couple of months ago, they were already compromised and leaning to the side.  It just needed that extra push to knock them down. The storm definitely didn’t help at all, but it’s not unexpected to see a house fall in the ocean here.”

Gonna need 5wd for this one. Photo: Cody Hammer

As for how the shifting sands will affect the many surf spots along the island chain, we had a quick chat with another local photog, Cody Hammer.  

“The Lighthouse has actually gotten better since more sand has come in,” Cody laughs. “Other than that, all of the surf spots around here come and go with the sand.  S-turns — where those houses fell today —  used to be a really well-known wave, and it’s just been awful for so many years. It hasn’t been the same as it was 20 years ago.”

There you have it.  Cherish your favorite waves while you have them, and if you live in OBX, buy yourself some “my house fell into the ocean” insurance.

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