Coastal Delaware’s moderate temps and sea breezes are just part of the area’s appeal, but they offer both residents and visitors an irresistible embrace
Gail and David Simpson have a perfectly good house, in a shaded suburb just north of Wilmington. It’s a comfortable Colonial-style home, Gail says, and the development has nice streets and sidewalks for taking a stroll.
Even so, they and their daughter, Risa, enjoy spending as much time as they can in Rehoboth Beach, where they have a condo in the nearby Canal Corkran development.
A big part of their attraction to the area is the coastal Sussex weather.
“We like the temperate temperatures down at the beach,” Gail says. “It can be hot in Wilmington, and then when we get down by the ocean, it’s cooler.”
The opposite can be true in winter, she adds. While it certainly gets cold in Rehoboth — the lowest temperature recorded at a weather station on the boardwalk is
2.8 degrees Fahrenheit, on Feb. 20, 2015 — the Atlantic Ocean has a moderating effect. On that same February day, a weather station 30 miles inland in Seaford recorded a low of 1.8 degrees. The average high in Seaford for the month was 28.1 degrees; in Rehoboth, it was 35.6.
Simpson isn’t a newbie when it comes to visiting Delaware beaches. Growing up in Bridgeville, she and her family used to go to Rehoboth Beach every Sunday evening to stroll along the boardwalk and perhaps have dinner. When she was in junior high school, her parents started renting a cottage for a week each summer, a tradition that lasted until about eight years ago.
“It was always more comfortable here than in Bridgeville,” recalls Simpson, speaking from her condo. “For the first five years, we rented a cottage less than a block from the beach. It didn’t have air conditioning, but we opened all the windows and always had a breeze.”
She’s not the first person to savor that sea breeze. People have sought out the cooling ocean air for millennia: Augustus, the first Roman emperor, had a residence on Capri, an island off Italy’s coast, where he would go to escape Rome’s summer heat.
Two thousand years later, on another continent, the appeal is the same.
“It’s about a mile from our condo to the boardwalk,” Simpson says. “When we’re making our way there, we can feel the ocean breeze get stronger and stronger. It’s very nice.”
Where north and south overlap
The climate in coastal Sussex County is not unique. “There’s nothing distinctive about the weather along Delaware’s shore,” says Valerie Meola, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service who’s based in Mount Holly, N.J. Weather up and down the mid-Atlantic coastline is pretty much the same, she adds.
But the region is special in that it’s positioned near the north-south midpoint of the United States. (Rehoboth’s latitude is 38 degrees, 42 minutes, 57 seconds north; the nation’s geographic latitudinal center is 39 degrees 50 minutes north.)
“The climate of the state represents an escape from the rigors of the North and the languor of the South,” asserts “Delaware: A Guide to the First State,” published in 1938 and reprinted in 2006.
Add to that the fact that the ocean helps to keep temperatures steady, and you have a welcoming spot not just for people but plants and animals too.
“[Lewes] is a twin province of north and south, home to species that ordinarily do not mix,” writes naturalist Jennifer Ackerman in “Notes From the Shore,” published in 1995. “Bald cypress, muscadine grape, loblolly pine and sweetleaf push up from their southern habitats; wild cherry, beach plum, sassafras and laurel creep down from the north. Such northern species as eider ducks meet true southerners like the brown pelican and black vulture.”
Though a variety of native animals and plants find the weather accommodating, that doesn’t mean raising vegetables in coastal Sussex County is a breeze. Ellen Magee has farmed in the area since 1978. Her family business, with farms in Lewes, Ocean View and Selbyville, grows 6 million ears of sweet corn every year, and 4 million pounds of watermelons.
A coastal Sussex native, she loves living and working here. And she sings the praises of air quality along the coast. “We have good air blowing in from the ocean, fresh and clean. This area produces some of the best produce in the United States — we grow the sweetest berries — and I think that that good air really makes a difference.”
But she laughs at the idea that the local weather is always the farmer’s friend.
Last spring, “we had 16 days of rain,” she says. “We had two frosts late in April. And I pretty much know that if we want it to rain, it’s not going to.”
That variation in rain amounts — lots in one year, too little the next — is characteristic of the area. According to the Office of the Delaware State Climatologist: “Annual precipitation amounts can vary greatly from one year to another.”
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