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Outer Banks campers find themselves floating as tides reach unexpectedly high levels

Higher than expected tides surprised some campers at the Outer Banks. They woke up in the ocean.
Higher than expected tides surprised some campers at the Outer Banks. They woke up in the ocean. Cape Lookout National Seashore photo

The Outer Banks of North Carolina are among those rare places where campers can go to sleep on the beach and wake up quite literally in the ocean, according to the National Park Service.

Cape Lookout National Seashore highlighted the problem over the weekend on Facebook, posting a photo of a tent on the South Core Banks surrounded by water after high tide.

It was not a pleasant experience for the campers, who found themselves floating between the dunes and a berm, the park said.

“The high tide yesterday provided at least one camper with a rude awakening,” park service wrote on Facebook on Saturday.

“Before setting up your campsite, be sure to check for indications of high tide marks (wet sand, puddles of water, grass and other debris making a wrack line, etc.).”

The park went on to warn that anyone else who showed up to camp this week might find “there is not much beach at this time to camp on” due to high tides.

“Water at high tide goes all the way to the base of the dunes, and sometimes through the dunes to the back road (sand trail behind the dunes) or even into developed areas such as the cabin camp area,” Cape Lookout officials said.

Park ranger Karen Duggan told McClatchy news group this type of thing happens more than you would imagine, and it’s not always the camper’s fault.

“The visitor had set up their campsite at the back of the beach against the dunes. But the tide was higher that night than the previous night. ... Surprise! Flooded tent,” Duggan said.

“But others, both tent and vehicle campers, have been caught when either they didn’t pay attention to the high tide marks on the beach or pay attention to the weather/tide forecast. Either way, Mother Nature Wins!”

People raised on the Outer Banks have a colloquialism for such times, she said: “Sharks in the collards.”

“It’s a local phrase meaning that the sound waters are high enough to flood your garden. In other words: sharks are literally able to swim among your collards. I’ve also heard ‘shrimp in the collards,’ but the version with sharks is more common.”

Tides were above normal for days on the Outer Banks due to a subtropical storm that brought rough surf, overwash and coastal flooding through the weekend. Waves breached dunes along N.C. 12, cutting off traffic for days, the N.C. Department of Transportation said.

The highway is now passable, but state officials have warned “periodic lane closures” will occur as repairs continue.

Social media reaction to the park’s floating tent photo has ranged from sympathy for the campers to concern Cape Lookout continues to suffer setbacks after Hurricane Dorian.

At least one person wanted to know if the campers slept through the ordeal, perhaps on air mattresses.

“Cant get much closer to waterfront than that,” posted Drew King on the park’s Facebook page.

“Mother Nature will teach you some nasty lessons. Especially out here,” Sonya Harrelson Graham wrote.

“At least it was just a tent.. (as much as it sucks for the campers),” Forrest Gray said.

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