Does it snow in the Outer Banks? The Outer Banks in North Carolina are well known for their stunning beaches, old lighthouses, and charming coastal vibes.
But, people who travel in winter often ask, “Does Outer Banks get snow?”
Let’s talk more about the climate in Outer Banks to answer, “Does it snow in Outer Banks North Carolina?” And if it does, when exactly should you plan your visit?
The Outer Banks is more famous for beach umbrellas than snow shovels, yet it can still snow during winter; it is extremely rare.
The Climate of the Outer Banks
Located off the North Carolina and Virginia coast, the islands and peninsulas comprising the Outer Banks typically experience milder winters than the mainland.
Because the islands extend into the Atlantic Gulf Stream, the climate is subtropical and humid.
The region is subjected to storms that bring heavy rain and sometimes snow, so it is known for its unusual weather patterns. How cold does it get in the Outer Banks?
Here is a bit more about the maximum and minimum temperatures in the Outer Banks:
|Month||Min Temp||Max Temp|
An Important Consideration
The islands extend for some 200 miles and are especially at risk of erosion as sea levels rise, although they were formed millions of years ago.
Fact: Bodie Island is now a peninsula after years of tropical storms and hurricanes silted up and closed the inlet but over time, many other inlets have opened and closed.
Does It Snow in the Outer Banks?
Yes, it is possible to see snow in the Outer Banks, but do not get too excited. This weather event is rather rare in the area. Most years, most places won’t see any.
Even so, it does snow, usually sometime in February, although in January and March too, just to add to its unpredictability.
It can make the roads slick and slow the traffic especially since it melts quickly with so much moisture in the air.
It may send some indoors but most local people will be out taking in the wonder of it all.
Fact: Because daytime temperatures never drop below freezing, it won’t last long and it’s normal for shops and businesses to close as locals take advantage of it.
How is Winter Like in the Outer Banks?
Although winter on the Banks is usually pretty mild, with temperatures in the mid-50s, nighttime temperatures can drop below freezing.
Hatteras Island, for instance, on average sees below-zero temperatures 17 night of the year but daytime temperatures tend to stay above zero no matter what time of the year it is.
If snow does fall, it’s typically only one or two inches falling at night when temperatures are lowest once or twice a year.
Where to See Snow in the Outer Banks?
Not all the Outer Bank islands get the same amount of snow. More falls in the north than the south and tends to fall more on the Atlantic edge of the islands.
However, any snowfall is rare because of the Gulf Steam’s proximity.
Few Areas to Consider
Nag’s Head, for example, gets 49 inches of rain but only 1 inch of snow per year. Kitty Hawk also sees plenty of rain, even in March its driest month.
But, its snow season lasts just one week, from February 2nd through to the 9th although a substantial amount, some 3 inches fell later on 12th February in 2016.
The Recent Snow Event
In January 2021, the snow arrived early brought in from the east by a storm that crossed North Carolina.
After dumping 5 inches of snow on the mainland, it left only a slight accumulation on the Banks, about ½ inch on:
- Kitty Hawk
- Southern Shores
- Nag’s Head
It was the first time some of the local wildlife had seen snow.
Fact: Outer Bank winters are warmer than on the mainland because the islands and peninsulas are long and narrow and surrounded by shallow, easy-to-warm water.
Why is Snow So Rare in the Outer Banks?
Snow in the Outer Banks is so infrequent that people there stop to celebrate it.
However, some areas haven’t seen snow in several years. Usually falling in light flurries, there are several reasons why it’s rare to accumulate.
Some 5.3 million years ago, when tides were significantly higher, sediments were deposited further inland, creating a flat coastal plain.
Today, tidal ranges are low, and although the Outer Banks remain extremely dynamic, the movement does not form the elevations needed to trigger snow locally.
Instead, winter storms bring the little snow that falls to the Outer Banks.
Humidity and Wind
Because of the ocean, their exposed location, and low elevation, the Outer Banks are humid all year round, although there is a seasonal variation.
Summers are muggy, and conditions are ripe for summer storms and hurricanes both capable of bringing heavy rain and hail.
In winter, the humidity falls to around 50%, which is more comfortable but because of the ocean, there is still enough moisture in the air to prevent snow from forming.
Fact: The Outer Banks area has been shaped by a cyclic rise and fall in sea levels rather than the movement of tectonic plates.
The Outer Banks are windy, and the sediments making up the islands heat up faster than the ocean’s surface around them.
A sea breeze is a typical coastal feature as the temperature and pressure try to equalize.
However, on the Outer Banks, the breeze constantly shifts direction as locally produced winds and the global winds of the Atlantic battle for dominance.
Because the Outer Bank is long and thin, any clouds are quickly blown over them.
As barrier islands, the Outer Banks have always been subjected to beach erosion as major storms regularly move inland from the Atlantic.
These days, the erosion is considered abnormally high and the regions heavy predisposition to hurricanes is regarded as a major contributing factor.
These storms also play a role in limiting the amount of snowfall in the area.
Here is a bit more about the impact of hurricanes in the Outer Banks.
|1954||Hazel||4||100mph winds, 18ft storm surge, coastal erosion, 19 deaths|
|1965||Camille||5||Heavy rain, very high surf, extensive erosion|
|1979||David||2||High winds, 12 inches of rain in 24 hours, widespread flooding and erosion.|
|1985||Gloria||4||Homes lost on Hatteras Island and Ocracoke Island|
|1999||Floyd||4||20 inches of rain, severe flooding|
|2019||Dorian||5||In the Outer Banks alone over a foot of rain fell and there was a record storm surge|
Things to Do in the Outer Banks in Winter
There is something really special about going to the beach in the winter.
And in the Outer Banks, you will definitely find a nice, refreshing wind and a private beach just waiting for you to check out.
Here are some really cool things to do in the Outer Banks in winter:
|Winter Lights at Elizabethan Gardens||Take a walk through the gardens and see all the pretty lights and decorations that make it look like a magical winter place.|
|Stargazing||You can see the Milky Way clearly on dark nights with no obstructions.|
|Beachcombing||Look for pretty shells and glass on the beaches that are not too busy, like the beach at Frisco.|
|Nature Exploration||Be sure to plan a trip to the Pea National Wildlife Refuge, which is perfect for those interested in scenic trails and birdwatching.|
Does it snow in the Outer Banks? Yes, you may sometimes witness snow in the Outer Banks, but it is definitely not common.
That is mainly due to its location and the fact that the temperature does not stay very cold for long enough.
But, the good thing is that no matter when you decide to visit, you will always find so many things to see and do in the Outer Banks.