Freak storms compound Nags Head flooding problems

By on July 20, 2017

Wrightsville Ave. after Sunday’s storm. (William Broadhurst)

Homes and businesses in Nags Head were inundated by rainwater twice in the span of six days last week by slow moving thunderstorms that poured millions of gallons of water onto the town in less than two hours.

Water is receding about as fast as Nags Head can address chronic flooding between the Beach Road and bypass that first came to a head after Hurricane Matthew’s record-breaking rainfall.

The Outer Banks topography is not exactly ideal to handle any significant rainfall, as a “trough” probably best describes the peninsula and island chain.


Man-made dunes to the east and much taller natural dunes to the west funnel water in between, where the most structures happen to be located.

Although it usually takes only a few hours for water to percolate into the sandy soil during normal rainfall, the problem is compounded by a drainage system that dates back as much as five decades and can barely handle a heavy rain when it is in perfect shape.

“Ditches full of sand, mud, weeds and water,” said South Wrightsville Avenue resident William Broadhurst. “The culverts under streets and storm drains are choked with weeds and debris. No flow at all. None.”

Town officials have been scrambling to do as much as they can to alleviate the flooding, but with more than 55 miles of pipes and ditches, they can only move so fast.

“We are responding to all inquiries to assess the situation on the ground so that we can take the necessary corrective actions,” said Town Manager Cliff Ogburn.


On July 11, 3.96 inches of rain fell in just 90 minutes at Nags Head Town Hall from the same thunderstorm that garnered attention nationwide because it also spawned numerous waterspouts in the Albemarle Sound off Colington.

The connecting streets between Virgina Dare Trail and Croatan Highway from just north of the Kill Devil Hills line to South Nags Head disappeared under as much as 2 feet of water, and sections of both N.C. 12 and U.S. 158 were inundated, bringing traffic to a near standstill.



Other than video of the flooding on the Beach Road shot by The Outer Banks Voice and shared by The Weather Channel’s Jim Cantore on Twitter, there was no mention outside of Dare County about the freak storm’s flooding.

Water was still standing in the yards and driveways of the homes of permanent residents, vacation rentals and businesses from that storm and several others that passed through over the next few days, when another “frog-strangler” formed early Sunday.

Architect Ben Cahoon digging out the ditch Monday downstream from his office and the Max Radio studios on Wood Hill Drive.

Over just a two-hour period, 4.97 inches of rain fell, sending up to a foot of water into the lowest level of a number of homes.

Since July 1, the town’s rain gauge has collected more than 15 inches of rain, and measurable rainfall had been recorded in 14 of the first 18 days of the month.

“We have had personnel performing maintenance activities pre-, during and post-rainfall events,” Ogburn said.

Broadhurst said the water table is now just three inches below the ground surface in the area where he lives near the corner of Wrightsville Ave. and Blackman Street and that septic tanks and drainfields are under water.

He said many residents can’t do laundry, take a shower or even flush their toilets.

According to a “Drainage FAQ” issued by the town on Tuesday, “the rainfall frequency is contributing to elevated groundwater conditions, reducing a ‘drying out’ period, as well as the ability for the Town’s drainage network to recover.”

Rainfall runoff is primarily managed by allowing it to infiltrate into the surrounding sandy soils.

But what isn’t absorbed is supposed to move through the network of “drainage infrastucture,” a third of which is owned and maintained by the N.C. Department of Transportation, including five ocean outfall discharge points.

While those pipes are located at low points in the town, the majority of them were installed in the early 1960s in response to the Ash Wednesday Storm, which inundated nearly the entire northern Outer Banks with primarily ocean overwash.

No design records for the outfall systems are available, according to the town, but the system has approximate capacity of less than a two-year level of service, or a two-inch rainfall occurring over a 24-hour period.

Autumn Kozer’s home flooded in the North Ridge neighborhood during Matthew and was inundated again after Sunday’s storm.

Along South Virginia Dare Trail, South Croatan Highway or South Old Oregon Inlet Road, the stormwater systems are owned and maintained by NCDOT.

“A significant challenge exists due to state regulations prohibiting any new outfall connections or size increase,” Ogburn said.

“This is further compounded by the outfalls having a minimal level of service, having to overcome tidal influences to function efficiently in addition to continual maintenance by keeping the pipes free of obstructions.”

The outfall pipes have no control mechanisms, such as a flood gate or valve, which regulate the outflow or inflow of water from these systems, and the town has no means or authority to close or provide maintenance to the pipes.

The Town of Kitty Hawk has been installing a system of drains and pipes in key locations since Hurricane Sandy flooded much of the area between the highways.

Temporary pumps are then placed at the end of the pipes to move the water into the ocean.

But Nags Head has yet to move beyond the planning stages on a similar system, and is in the second year of a three-year effort to update the Stormwater Master Plan and a 10-year Capital Improvement plan.

“All available options will be explored to include both innovative and conventional stormwater management techniques to increase the level of service throughout the town,” Ogburn said.

“In addition, the town is currently working on the development of an emergency pumping plan, which is required to be approved by the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality in advance of operation under emergency conditions,” said Ogburn.

“While it’s understandable the unusual rain causes unusual problems, one would think there would be crews out addressing the issue immediately after the rain,” said Broadhurst. “It’s Wednesday now and I’ve seen not a single truck or man with a shovel even. And the water remains.”

“Our initial efforts were focused on the downstream areas prior to our outfalls to ensure that all were flowing and free of obstruction,” Ogburn added.

“We are currently working our way upstream and in some of the most affected areas in an effort to alleviate flooding,” Ogburn said. “It will take some time to cover the entire town, but we ask our residents to be patient until we are able to get there.”


  • Obx mermaid

    The just built Dowdy Park area was extremely flooded after the rain! Nags Head was in charge of planning, design, permitting and approval! They didn’t
    Put in drainage in the area! They just
    Put in more hard surfaces and raised the ground level forcing water into the streets! This shouldn’t be

    Thursday, Jul 20 @ 8:47 pm
  • Czarina

    Since this also happened last October, the residents have been MORE than patient! It’s time for action — not simply discussion.

    Thursday, Jul 20 @ 8:59 pm
  • Nloud

    So far this year, the rain flooding our home has personally cost us $21k in less than a year. The problem is not just the blocked existing drain pipes, but also all the new construction with lots being built up for new homes with no regards to the flooding it causes the existing houses next to these built up lots. There needs to be action put in place to address the new construction and existing drainage problem now and not keep delaying for a perfect plan.

    Thursday, Jul 20 @ 9:12 pm
  • Kevin Jones

    I own a house in kitty hawk on beach road.i understand everyone’s frustration.but if take take a look at the aerial view of where we choose to vacation are purchase a house ..we are all chance takers that love the OBX ..there is nothing a human can do about it so let’s quit bitching and enjoy it while we can

    Thursday, Jul 20 @ 9:37 pm
  • Tiny Cottage

    When was that video shot? I’d like to see more of it. It stopped just before it got to my cottage. Is there footage all the way to Hollowell street?

    That area is between two ocean outfalls. One at Conch street (by the new 7-11) and one at Curlew street (1/2 mile north). So, it seems they are useless. This should be the driest part of town. We deal with these ugly drains on the beach and are told not to swim near them (could get sick) and they don’t even work.

    Furthermore, and this has been mentioned in the past, all the fill for the newer larger “cottages” has made the flooding problem worse.

    Thursday, Jul 20 @ 9:49 pm
  • Ruthless

    How much more fill and concrete and lot coverage and sod will the town allow before it solves the problem for existing improved properties? These ain’t hundred year storms we are having.

    Thursday, Jul 20 @ 9:51 pm
  • Harry M. "Skip" Lange

    For approximately 20 years up to 2002 the Town Public works Dept. annually cleaned, inspected, and documented every Town owned ditch and culvert. This preventative maintenance has obviously not been done in the passed 15 years and now the Town residents are suffering for it. I know this to be a fact as I was the Public Works Dir. during that period and it was our responsibility to perform annual regular maintenance of the Towns drainage system. Strongly suggest a regular maintenance program be re-instituted.

    Friday, Jul 21 @ 7:47 am
  • dave

    Its Nags Head. Res Ipsa Loquitur. (Google it!)

    Friday, Jul 21 @ 8:21 am
  • chaser

    How much impervious surface does NH have now?

    Friday, Jul 21 @ 9:14 am
  • Wollstonecraft

    Don’t worry, be happy. Rising sea levels will make the area unlivable by the end of this century.

    Friday, Jul 21 @ 9:23 am
  • Frustrated

    This would be humorous if not so devastating! I’ve been begging the town to do something about the storm water problem for years! Every”New” storm is unprecedented! Nags Head is fully aware of what is causing the problem, but chooses to ignore it. People tend to forget once the water dries up! Years ago adjacent property owners were allowed to truck in 3+feet of fill for new homes, cover the lot with massive houses and concrete and not put in any storm water controls. If existing homes were flooded, too bad. Existing homeowners were told to take it up in court with the neighbors. Wow. That makes for great relations. Some of the building codes have improved, but obviously not enough to correct the flooding. Now every vacant lot is covered by a new home. How can all this new building continue without a WORKING storm water system in place? While new parks are nice, protecting our property should be the primary focus.

    Friday, Jul 21 @ 10:24 am
  • Barbara

    Nags Head continues to decline to acknowledge that the flooding is a direct consequence of the over development and the manner of development since 2000. At the same time, the Town agrees that infiltration is key. Well then why is the new park filled with new hard scape. Why is there no restriction on the installation of any impermeable drives or pads. Why is there no requirement that any new building not contribute any runoff to neighbors or the existing inadequate drains? None of that costs tax dollars and all of it would at least keep the problem from increasing.

    Friday, Jul 21 @ 10:50 am
  • PA OBXer

    I’ve had my non-rental home on Memorial Ave for 28 years with no problems. The problem as I see it started 10 years ago with all the new construction and will get a lot worse with many more units in the planning stage. With all the ground being covered with concrete, how can we expect the water to soak in. STOP THE GREED and start making SAGA and other construction groups responsible for drainage!!!

    Friday, Jul 21 @ 11:07 am
  • Steve O

    Come on over to north end of Manteo, plenty of big lots, big trees, no flooding. Get more land for your money too.

    Friday, Jul 21 @ 11:45 am
  • Michael

    Been a rainy year. When we get our usual augest dry days, I sure don’t want to hear people saying we are in a drought. Crazy rainy summer. Ready to dry out

    Friday, Jul 21 @ 12:26 pm
  • Michael

    It’s not just nagshead. Roanoke island was under water too . It’s just been a way above average rainy year. That’s the biggest problem. Lived here 40years. Rainy year is the biggest problem

    Friday, Jul 21 @ 12:28 pm
  • gsurf123

    Lot coverage and fill affect everyone especially if your neighbors bring in enough fill to put you below the grade of your lot. Combining that with liberal lot coverage rules compounds the issue as the water has not place to go. On the upside everyone was complaining about drought conditions across the US. Many of those same places have had more than enough rain to replenish their lakes, water table, public drinking supplies, etc.

    Friday, Jul 21 @ 1:10 pm
  • Bozz Dinger

    Sounds like its time for homeowners to file a class action suit against the town. Bankrupt them into action!

    Friday, Jul 21 @ 2:53 pm
  • Rosita Young

    Perhaps the town should pay for all those lost belongings… sickness… damage to cars etc. less building permits would be issued to those lining their pockets…..sick to my stomach …these are residents who sustain the community in the OFF season Hospital bills are skyhigh and insurance not affordable for so many

    Friday, Jul 21 @ 4:52 pm
  • Bud

    The real problem with the area is overpopulation. The cause of most our issues and the cause of the loss of the outer banks.

    Saturday, Jul 22 @ 6:45 am
  • Billb

    Why was the prevented maintenance stopped in 2002 ?. The problems will not go away but will only get worse.

    Saturday, Jul 22 @ 12:19 pm
  • VoidLess

    Overbuilt, under planned. You need pipes, pumps and filter membranes to correct this public safety issue. Time for Nags Head to Pony Up.

    Monday, Jul 24 @ 8:11 am
  • Catfish 27954

    Bring back plastic grocery store bags, that should put the icing on the cake.

    Tuesday, Jul 25 @ 12:31 pm
  • Barbara

    Today at 5:30 at the Fire Station across the ByPass from Town Hall there will be a meeting to discuss the drainage situation in the Gallery Row Area. Board of Commissioners and Town staff are supposed to be attending. Anyone interested in participating and letting the Town know how they feel and what they want done is welcome to attend.

    Wednesday, Jul 26 @ 10:54 am
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