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10-foot ‘cliff’ forms on popular Outer Banks beach, prompting warnings to tourists

Take a look at the 10-foot cliff that closed Nags Head beach in NC’s Outer Banks

Officials closed the Nags Head beach on Tuesday after a 10-foot cliff came "out of nowhere." Experts speculate the cliff formed as a result of king tides. Outer Banks photographer Wes Snyder captured the new cliff on video.
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Officials closed the Nags Head beach on Tuesday after a 10-foot cliff came "out of nowhere." Experts speculate the cliff formed as a result of king tides. Outer Banks photographer Wes Snyder captured the new cliff on video.

One of North Carolina’s popular Outer Banks beaches abruptly closed Tuesday, not for deadly rip currents or sharks, but for a 10-foot cliff that seemed to come out of nowhere.

The town of Nags Head said it was closing Gray Eagle Beach Access until the newly formed escarpment could be “leveled out.”

However, photos posted on Facebook of the site were instantly labeled fake on social media, including one that showed an umbrella-topped life guard tower teetering above a nonexistent beach.

These pictures look fake,” posted someone named Johna on Facebook.

“I think this is a...spoofing post from someone,” wrote Bonnie from Lynchburg, Virginia. “Feel free to prove me wrong!”

“I’ve never seen the erosion to that degree! Unbelievable,” posted Joe from McMurray, Pennsylvania.

TV station WAVY reported the escarpment has actually become a tourist attraction in the past two days, including many who say they can’t believe what they’re seeing.

“We were like: ‘Ok this can not be true, that’s crazy.’ So we decided hey let’s go on our lunch break...and see something like this,” said Outer Banks resident Martha Keener told WAVY.

The escarpment is believed to have been created by a phenomenon known as “perigean spring tides,” also called “king tides,” which happen “when the moon is either new or full and is closest to the earth,” according to NOAA.

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During such periods, extreme tides are created: Higher than normal high tides, and lower than normal low tides, according to NOAA. Coastal North Carolina experienced “king tides” July 12-16 and will again Aug. 9-12, experts predict.

Beach erosion of this type is expected to become more common, according to NOAA. By the year 2100, king tides will happen on top of another 1 to 8 feet of sea level rise.

That means today’s flood will become tomorrow’s high tide, as the rise in sea level causes coastal flooding to occur more frequently and last longer, NOAA says in its U.S. Climate Resiliency toolkit.

Nags Head town official Roberta Thuman told the Coastal Times the biggest concern is the instability of the escarpment.

The town did not say when the beach would reopen, and the Coastal Times reports Nags Head does not have equipment needed to level the site as proposed.

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Video from Anastasia Locraft shows waves pounding a house near the Rodanthe Pier on the NC Outer Banks. Locraft and her family were staying next door to the house, but were relocated due to the damage being inflicted by waves from Hurricane Chris.

Mark Price: 704-358-5245, @markprice_obs
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