Editorial & Opinion

So, what is it like on Ocracoke in the winter?

Winter on Ocracoke, NC

A couple finds solitude on Ocracoke’s winter beach. Photo: C. Leinbach

For Ocracoke news, click here.  

By Connie Leinbach and Peter Vankevich

Many visitors want to know what the island is like in the winter

No, the island doesn’t roll up and disappear, as related in the “Dingbatter’s Guide to Ocracoke,” a comedy now playing Wednesday nights in the Deepwater Theater.

The short answer is: It’s a lot quieter and many islanders welcome this time after a frantic tourist season that has many working two or more jobs in the six- to seven-month season.

The long answer explains why people live here year-round.

There are, of course, way fewer visitors here from November until Easter.

During the winter, islanders, who’ve worked every day in the high season, may take their own vacations, either traveling to near and far corners of the world or getting ready for the next season.

Only a few restaurants and shops are open, and a few hardy surf fishermen (mostly locals) brave the windy beaches in hopes of catching a drum.

One can walk “The Winter Beach,” a phrase memorialized by Charlton Ogburn, Jr. about his journey in 1964 from Maine to Florida which included spending time on Ocracoke.

Beach walkers find solitude with scurrying sanderlings at their feet and dolphins playing beyond the breakers.

Birding is an attractive reason for visiting–to see species hard to find elsewhere.  Spectacular Northern Gannets can be

Snowy owl on the frozen dunes during the winter of 2014. Photo: P. Vankevich

seen in great numbers often dive-bombing just offshore, and in 2014, two rare Snowy Owls spent months on the dunes attracting hundreds of visitors that helped the local economy. To read about them, click here.

The island decks itself out for Christmas as houses and yards are adorned with lights and figures. The OCBA gives awards to the homes and businesses with the best lights.

The Ocracoke Preservation Society has a Christmas tree lighting/caroling reception and a historical house tour, the library has a cookie swap and, the church groups go caroling and the United Methodist Church has a Live Nativity.

While temperatures rarely sink below 40 degrees (with the occasional freezing), the constant winter wind makes the air feel colder.

Nor’easter storms are more frequent. As one O’Cocker says, “Nor’easters can be worse than hurricanes.”

Someone once remarked, to live on Ocracoke, you must like wind (or at least tolerate it). At times, winds in the 20 to 30 mph range can blow for days.

The stronger winter winds may cause the ferries to temporarily suspend operations.

Ocracoke snow day. Feb. 2014. Photo by C. Leinbach

Every now and then, Ocracoke sees some snow. When that happens, local kids will “sled” (often on large pieces of cardboard) down the OVFD driveway. Snow figures will pop up in yards all over the island.

All of this wintry play has to be done quickly because snow on the island usually melts within a day or two.

Ocracoke can be the perfect winter location for someone needing quiet to “finish that book,” as former N.C. Poet Laureate, Joseph Bathanti, remarked after visiting the island this year. See story here.

When these creators want to get out into the community, they can head to the school gym to watch the two varsity basketball teams, Dolphins and Lady Dolphins, take on one of their many rivals.  There are few communities where the school in such an integral part of the social fabric.

Islanders socialize by inviting friends over to watch movies or play cards. These are usually potluck style.  The library has occasional evening lectures

So, yeah. It’s a lot quieter here on this sandbar 23 miles off the mainland Hyde shore. It may not for everyone, but there are those who would not want to live anywhere else.

Dolphins basketball. Photo: P. Vankevich

Sunset on the Irvin Garrish Highway, Ocracoke. Photo by P. Vankevich

2 replies »

  1. As Debbie and Claudia stated, “Life at an appropriate scale.” If only . . . As always, thank you Connie and Peter for your hard work and dedication to the Observer. We who are not as fortunate to live there are fortunate to have you continue to bring us such wonderful writing.

  2. Amen! The most quiet and peaceful time of the year. Miles of beach to yourself, time to catch up with old friends and meet new ones, a time to understand the true heartbeat of this beautiful community and its year round residents. We spend mid October to mid May for these very reasons! can’t wait to get back!

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