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Ocean Water Temperature

Charlotte, North...
Level Contributor
90 posts
30 reviews
Ocean Water Temperature

My family just returned from a week's vacation in Corolla. We enjoyed everything Corolla had to offer, except the ocean water temperature. It felt icy cold, so on our 3rd day there I checked the water temperature. It was 70 F! -- too cold for comfortable swimming. It remained around 70 F for the duration of our trip which meant that I never ventured into the water above my thighs. My kids jumped in a time or two, but were too cold to stay in and really enjoy themselves. I checked the average monthly water temps and learned that in late July/Early August the ocean water is typically in the high 70's. But then I read that last year the ocean temp also averaged 70 at this time of year. We purposely chose to vacation in Corolla in early August because we thought the water would be at its warmest and much warmer than 70. We live in Charlotte and when we take beach vacations we normally go somewhere between Myrtle Beach and Central Florida and the water is usually very warm. I can't remember going anywhere farther South and finding ocean water to be 70F. Sadly, between the water temp, the Red Flag days and the rip tides, it was a deal-breaker for us. One of the things we love most about beach vacations is swimming in warm, blue water. It's unfortunate because Corolla and the Outer Banks in general are great areas. In the future, we will stick to beach vacations further South. So what is the real story? Has the ocean water been unusually cold the last few years?

Level Contributor
838 posts
25 reviews
1. Re: Ocean Water Temperature

Hi Elizabeth - The Outer Banks experiences an unusual water temp shift whenever the winds come out of the west, so blowing from the land out to sea. The way the warm Gulf Stream comes up the coast, it can easily be blown off shore with a westerly breeze causing the colder water from the Labrador current to well up from below resulting in water temps in the 50's and 60's. Why this happens to Corolla and not Virginia Beach or Ocean City, Md is a mystery to me. It seems to affect the northern Outer Banks beaches like Duck and Corolla more than Hatteras. And this shift can occur over night. Already this morning, the water is 74 degrees, which is where it begins to get tolerable for most. I've been coming to Corolla for over 25 years, but have only been aware of this phenomena for the past 10 years or so. It's probably always been the case, but we never ran into it before about 10 years ago when we hit a summer that seemed to have more cold water days than warm. This summer seems to be a repeat from the comments I've been reading - we're heading down in a few weeks. I don't think this occurs below Hatteras Island, so if you're looking to avoid it in the future, that might be your criteria - though others may post in with more accurate information. I'm sympathetic to your concern and have been frustrated several weeks in the past unable to get into the water and then pledged to go further south.

Kitty Hawk, North...
Destination Expert
for Outer Banks
Level Contributor
3 063 posts
136 reviews
2. Re: Ocean Water Temperature

It's odd that west winds bring the colder waters, but very true. When that wind turns east it warms the water and cools off the land to the west which is what I like. This is true from Avon to Carova and maybe north of there as well.

Brookneal, Virginia
Level Contributor
1 726 posts
99 reviews
3. Re: Ocean Water Temperature

You're in good company, Elizabeth...

After a lifetime of OBX vacations an August hurricane changed our plans in 2011

and we were forced to find a last minute vacation replacement in SC and loved it so much we have not come back to the OBX.

In SC we found warm water from May - October, a shorter drive from home to there, and much less traffic too.

Not to mention, there are so many others who absolutely love the OBX and live so much further north, that the OBX will remain a highly sought after vacation spot because the water seems warm to them. :)

(and for many other valid reasons as well)

There's a beach out there for us all...

Chapel Hill, North...
Level Contributor
9 735 posts
39 reviews
4. Re: Ocean Water Temperature

70 is pretty chilly for water temps, but the water off the Outer Banks is always chillier than elsewhere off NC's coast. The Gulf Stream brings the warm water to the Atlantic beaches of the Southeast states. Off Cape Hatteras is where it heads further east and stops hugging the coast allowing colder currents to come down as far south as NC.

There's a good color coded graphic on this page about ocean currents: wnct.com/blog/…

Sorry you weren't able to get in the water as much as you wished for. Hope you enjoyed the rest of your OBX vacation anyway.

Makes sense that east winds warm the waters because the warm Gulf Stream is further east off the OBX. If east winds are strong they will shift some of that warm surface water back toward the OBX beaches.

Edited: 07 August 2017, 16:59
Chapel Hill, North...
Level Contributor
9 735 posts
39 reviews
5. Re: Ocean Water Temperature

You can see the dramatic difference in the temps at Duck in August vs the temps at Hatteras here: https://www.nodc.noaa.gov/dsdt/cwtg/satl.html .

Easton, Pennsylvania
Level Contributor
8 posts
17 reviews
6. Re: Ocean Water Temperature

This is the first year since we bought in 2013 that we have experienced such cold temps this late in the season. Locals told us it was also unusual to have so many weeks of westward winds.

Adrian, Michigan
Level Contributor
526 posts
69 reviews
7. Re: Ocean Water Temperature

As stated previously , water temps can change dramatically over night . Not predictable or on any schedule . The general assumption is to look for the prevailing wind forecast . If you want to swim , just make sure a pool is available . However the sound is much warmer and calmer . There are a few places that have access . You may have to research them . Not very many beaches there . I know of one in Nags head . popular place for families with small children .

Stratford, New...
Level Contributor
14 posts
28 reviews
8. Re: Ocean Water Temperature

What is the beach in Nags Head that you recommend? I need WARM water!!!! ;)

Adrian, Michigan
Level Contributor
526 posts
69 reviews
9. Re: Ocean Water Temperature

I believe it's part of jockeys Ridge . At the West end of Soundside Rd .which is just south of Jockeys ridge . A right turn just before the bend . A small parking lot and trail to the beach .

10. Re: Ocean Water Temperature

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