What was Shelly Island as it appears now. Photo, NASA

Shelly Island is no more. The series of harsh winter storms that have marched across the Outer Banks for the past three weeks have reversed effects of a mild 2017 winter.

The announcement was made yesterday by the National Park Service on the Cape Hatteras National Seashore Facebook page.

That Shelly Island disappeared is not surprising. Coastal scientist were unanimous in predicting its demise. If there was a surprise, it was how quickly the sandbar melted away.

“The only surprise is just how quickly a sandbar the size of Shelly Island (approximately 27 acres at its largest size) disappeared,” the National Park Service wrote.

The sandbar that appeared last spring as Shelly Island is a cuspate foreland, and they appear frequently at the tip of capes. In an interview in the Outer Banks Voice last year, Dr. Jesse McNinch, a research scientist at the Field Research Facility in Duck (the Duck Pier) remarked, “The capes of North Carolina are sort of the poster child of the world (for cuspate forelands).”

In that same article, Dr. Reide Corbett at the Coastal Studies Institute predicted the demise of the island.

“It’s definitely an ephemeral feature,” he said.

Perhaps the most remarkable feature of Shelly Island was its size. Typically cuspate forelands are relatively small—usually five to six acres. Shelly Island was 27 acres at its largest, surprising even the scientists who study coastal processes.

Because of the size of the Point at Cape Hatteras and the extraordinary intersection of forces at work there, it’s possible the disappearance of the island is every bit as ephemeral as its possible reemergence.

Although no one is predicting that, nature has a way of surprising us, and the creation of a cuspate foreland like Shelly Island is part of nature with rules of its own.

“It’s really a beautiful balance of factors,” McNinch said.