Carteret County’s flat, gently rolling terrain and extensive salt marsh systems, located in the southeastern coastal plain of North Carolina, covers a total area of 1,341 square miles with a land area of 520 square miles and a water area of 821 square miles (61.22%). The county includes the protected areas of the Cape Lookout National Seashore, Cedar Island National Wildlife Refuge and part of the Croatan National Forest.
Carteret County, part of the Southern Outer Banks, is known as the “The Crystal Coast” because of its 81 miles of white sandy beaches. The location of the coast is unique because the sun rises and sets over the ocean. The beaches face south rather than east from the southern point of Core Banks at Cape Lookout to the west end of Bogue Banks.
In addition, the north winds calm the ocean water close to the beaches while the Crystal Coast’s proximity to the Gulf Stream keeps water temperatures mild. The waters have an abundance of aquatic life; the offshore Gulf Stream features the northern range of southern species and the southern range of northern species.
Carteret County has a mild southeast Atlantic coastal climate with an average daily temperature ranging from 46 degrees in January to 77 degrees in July. Mean annual temperature varies slightly from year to year but averages about 60 degrees. Daytime highs during the summer are usually in the mid 80s and are moderated by gentle ocean breezes almost all of the time. Nighttime lows are in the mid 60s. Daytime highs in the cold season are usually in the low 50s with nighttime lows in the middle 30s. Temperatures do not go below 20 degrees more than once or twice a year. The average annual temperature is 60 degrees, with the coldest month being January and the hottest month being July.
The annual average rainfall is 50 inches and precipitation is well distributed throughout the year with the maximum in August and the minimum in February. Thunderstorm activity occurs on about 40 days each year, which is about average for the state. Although a few flakes of snow are seen nearly every winter, measurable amounts occur very rarely. The little snow that does fall usually melts within a short time. The frost-free growing season averages 332 days depending on the location within the county.
Average annual temperature 63°
Average annual high temperature 72°
Average winter temperature 54°
Average water temperature (July) 78°
Average water temperature (January) 50°
Average annual rainfall 57.0”
Forests cover 60% of the coastal plain of North Carolina’s eastern region. Though the area is urbanizing, this large coverage of woodland gives the region a distinct rural atmosphere. About 97% of the forestland is classified as timberland. More than 60 commercially important tree species are found in the area and 68% of timberland acreage is hardwood (loblolly pine, southern yellow pine and oak-hickory). Timber inventory is at an all-time high and has doubled over the last 50 years.
Most of the surface water in Carteret County is tidally influenced and brackish; and therefore groundwater is predominantly utilized as a water source. The surficial aquifer can be accessed in most all areas of the region, and along the western reach of the County, the deeper Castle Hayne aquifer is utilized as a water source. The Castle Hayne is considered as one of the most productive aquifers in the United States, let alone North Carolina, because of its thickness and high percentage of permeable limestone and sands. The chloride content (saltwater) increases eastward and exceeds drinking water standards along the eastern half of the County. The region is fortunate to have abundant sources of water from the White Oak, Newport and North Rivers, and the smaller streams feeding these river systems. Several watershed projects have been created.
The State of North Carolina has declared it a public policy to preserve wetlands and to prevent their despoliation and destruction. Local jurisdictions have been authorized to adopt wetlands zoning ordinances and to create wetlands review boards.
The surficial sediments of mainland Carteret County are sharply differentiated by two general zones separated to the east and west by a north/south trending feature referred to as the Minnesott Ridge. The ridge represents an ancestral shoreline and accompanying Cape complex to the west of the ridge, which can be readily seen on aerial photographs as a series of pronounced E-W trending dunes located north of Hwy 24. The dune topography ranges from 25 to +40 feet above sea level and are generally comprised of moderately to well-sorted fine- to coarse-grained quartz sand. Sediments rich in organic matter that support thick, scrubby vegetation commonly characterize the low-topography “swales” between the dunes. Notwithstanding smaller sand dunes that lie in the Towns of Atlantic and Cedar Island (younger than those mentioned above); to the east of the Minnesott Ridge, the topography is generally much lower and is dominated by soft silt/clay (mud) and peat, or muddy sand. A complex and thin series of formations that include silts, clays, shells; limestone gravel, and phosphatic marine sands and silts that essentially cap the Castle Hayne formation generally underlie the surficial sediments. The Castle Hayne is a moldic, sandy limestone encountered roughly 60 feet below sea level towards the western edge of Carteret County to over 200 feet below sea level along the far eastern range of the County.