The long Memorial Day weekend is here already, and it's starting out hot and sunny.
The National Hurricane Center is keeping an eye on some showers and thunderstorms northwest of the Bahamas that its forecasters are giving a 90 percent chance of becoming a tropical or subtropical storm by tomorrow.
But the good news in the forecast is that the local National Weather Service Office in Newport/Morehead City says that the main issues for the Outer Banks will be an increasing chance of showers and thunderstorms and perhaps an increased threat of rip currents along our beaches.
If a tropical cyclone develops, it will likely be weak and named Bonnie. It will also likely be short-lived as it moves inland over South Carolina, meanders around and moves north or northeast over eastern North Carolina, perhaps keeping our weather unsettled until the middle of next week.
The Weather Service is monitoring the situation and Dare County Emergency Manager Drew Pearson suggests we all keep an eye on the weather and the updated forecasts at www.weather.gov/mhx/.
The local office also has a terrific new beach forecast page, which is technically "experimental," but really useful. You can click here to go to the page, which gives you not only the beach forecast for areas along the North Carolina coast, but will also tell you such things as the rip current risk and the UV index.
We have put a link to the beach forecast on the home page of The Island Free Press -- on the right-hand side toward the top.
The beach forecast page also includes information on identifying rip currents and rip current safety.
Rip currents are powerful, channeled currents of water flowing away from shore. They typically extend from the shoreline, through the surf zone, and past the line of the breaking waves. Rip currents can occur on any beach with breaking waves but occur more frequently in areas of jetties, groins, piers, and inlets.
Many of our visitors don't realize how dangerous rip currents can be -- many, if not most, of the drownings at the seashore are attributable to rip currents.
And, if you are a weather geek, you will also like the local Weather Service Office's new Tropical Information Page. It has lots of historical information on tropical cyclones in our area and their impacts --dating back to 1851. You can click here to get to that page.
WALKING TO CAPE POINT
In past summers when access to Cape Point -- for pedestrians and off-road vehicles -- has been blocked by a resource closure for nesting shorebirds, some hardy anglers and beachcombers have walked in the water to get out to Point.
But that is not going to work this summer.
In nesting seasons, there has been a closure between Ramp 44 and Cape Point, but the Point itself has not been closed -- you just couldn't get there.
This season, the American oystercatchers have set up in the same area between Ramp 44 and Cape Point, but the area of the Point is much smaller -- there just not much sand out there. The result is that the bird nests are much closer to the shoreline and to the Point.
In addition to the oystercatchers, Hatteras Island District ranger Joe Darling says that the large area of nesting colonial waterbirds -- including black skimmers, least terns, and common terns -- is only 150 meters from Cape Point. The required buffer distance is 180 meters -- which would technically extend the buffer out into the ocean.
If you are standing on Cape Point, he says, you are in violation of the closure.
Tim Havens, Cape Hatteras National Seashore law enforcement specialist, had this reply to an Island Free Press reader's question about walking to the Point:
"Walking in the water adjacent to the park boundary can pose several issues for anglers. First and foremost, safety is a huge concern. The NPS does not recommend anglers walk in the ocean outside of the NPS boundary to avoid a temporary wildlife closure because they would be violating federal regulations if they became tired and needed to walk onto the beach (into the closure). Even if anglers stayed outside the NPS boundary the entire time, (the) disturbance that they caused to the wildlife within the temporary closure area would be a violation of federal regulations. Temporary wildlife closures and buffers are in place to protect federally listed species, species of concern, and other wildlife at Cape Hatteras National Seashore.
"The best way to avoid a potentially unsafe condition that may result in a fine is to avoid walking in the water adjacent to temporary wildlife closures."
Darling also points out that some of the nests are getting ready to hatch, and, if the birds successfully raise their chicks to fledging on their first attempt, there is the chance that Cape Point can re-open earlier in the summer.
In some past summers, when the first nests have been lost to storms or other causes, the birds have re-nested, pushing the re-opening of the Point until later in the season.
So this summer, let's hope that the birds successfully and quickly raise their young and send them on their way.
NET BAN BILL -- AGAIN
Once again, an inland member of the North Carolina General Assembly has introduced a bill to ban net fishing in coastal waters.
This time it's Rep. William Richardson, a Fayetteville Democrat, who introduced House Bill 1122 early in the session -- on May 10.
The bill calls for a referendum in which voters would decide the fate of marine net fishing -- which is maybe just a little more democratic than an outright ban.
However, if the referendum should happen to be approved, it would be unlawful to use "either a gill net or other entangling net in costal fishing waters for the purpose of catching or taking any saltwater finfish, shellfish, or other marine animals."
Furthermore, it calls for a referendum in November -- just about five months from now. That isn't anywhere close to the amount of time that would be necessary to educate inland voters about the importance of commercial fishing to the economy and culture of the coast.
The stated purpose of this net ban is that the marine resources of the state, which belong to all of the people "should be conserved and managed for the benefit of the state and its people, and future generations." A net ban, the bill says, would protect these marine resources from unnecessary killing, overfishing, and waste."
First of all, there are already so many state and federal regulations to prevent "unnecessary killing, overfishing, and waste" that fishermen can barely keep track of them from day to day.
But, more importantly, I always wonder where these politicians who want to ban net fishing think the people of North Carolina are going to get their seafood. From South Carolina? From Virginia? Maybe from foreign countries where there probably is overfishing and where the safety of the seafood may be in question?
There no reason to get too worried yet about this latest in a long line of attempts to hurt our commercial fishermen and our coastal economy. HB 1122 has been banished to the Committee on Rules, Calendar, and Operations -- a place where many bills go to die a quiet death.
The Dare County Board of Commissioners passed a resolution opposing the bill at its May 16 meeting. You can click here to read it.