Re: A short "palm hunting" visit to Virginia Beach and Norfolk
My trip was kind of fast and the weather was rainy so I didn't walk around much... I didn't see any established Sabal palmettos on the beach but I did see some at a nearby miniature golf course (1 block back from the beach) that looked pretty good. They had some windburn but still lots of green and would definitely recover.
I think the exposure and lack of time to establish both contribute to the decline and death of the ones planted right by the beach. But I don't feel confident that even container-grown Sabal palmettos would thrive, out in the open, near the beach at Virginia Beach. I think the cold and exposure there might finish them off sooner or later. However, even near the beach, I saw some Sabal palmettos that were green and OK if tucked away in sheltered south-facing micro-climates, right next to buildings. I think it is just a complex set of factors with them in that area, which must be their absolute northern limit as non-native plants (the nearest native population is Bald Head Island in extreme southern North Carolina, hundreds of miles away).
A little bit inland from the beach, but still in the mild Zone 8a coastal belt, Sabal palmettos seem to do better, especially if container grown. The summer heat is greater and the wind exposure is much reduced. I don't know if they still get killed off there perdiodically though. But I suspect there might be some long-term survivors in warm microclimates.
Trachycarpus (Windmill) Palms are definitely a notch hardier than Sabal palmetto and there are more of them around in that area. But apparently they do not like beach conditions (even in warmer places) or growing in sand so there were few right near the beach. In warmer climates, Sabal palmetto can handle wind / beach conditions and growing in sand better - but I guess the VB oceanfront areas are just too cold for long-term survival.