Hurricane Fran formed from a tropical wave that moved
off the African coast on August 22nd. Around 8 a.m. August 23rd,
ship reports confirmed that the circulation had reached the surface, making
it a tropical depression just southeast of the Cape Verde Islands. Over the next few days, the
depression progressed on a west-northwesterly track at about 17 mph. No significant development had
occurred until the morning of the 27th when the depression was
upgraded to Tropical Storm Fran.
This was likely due to the fact that the storm was following the
path of a powerful Hurricane Edouard, which was
located about 865 miles to the west-northwest. Fran continued to follow behind Edouard and reached hurricane status the evening of the
28th. By the morning of the 30th, Fran was located about 175
miles northeast of the Leeward Islands. On the same day, Fran had weakened
to just below hurricane status, probably a result of interaction from Edouard again.
This caused Fran to take a more northwesterly track and slow to
about 5 mph.
By the next morning, Edouard
would be far enough away for Fran to regain hurricane status. During this time the subtropical
ridge became well established, acting as a conveyor belt for Fran to pick
up speed and resume the west-northwest motion over the next few days. As this motion continued, Fran
paralleled the Bahamas with the eye remaining just over 115 miles to the
northeast of the islands (Fig. 2).
Once Fran was northeast of the Bahamas, she reached Category 3
hurricane status (Fig. 3).
Around 8 p.m. September 4th, Fran reached its peak
intensity with sustained winds of 120 mph and a minimum pressure of 946
Figure 2: Color
enhanced IR image on September 4th at 1:15 pm EDT. (NCDC)
Figure 3: POES Visible satellite image of Hurricane Fran around 8
am EDT on September 4th, just northeast of the Bahamas. (NCDC)
Due to a low pressure centered over Tennessee and the western
extension of the subtropical ridge over the northwest Atlantic, Fran was
steered onto a north-northwesterly track and gained speed. Moving around 17 mph, the center of
Fran made landfall over the Cape Fear area on September 5th
around 8:30 p.m., just southwest of Wilmington, North Carolina (Fig.
4). At landfall, sustained
winds were 115 mph and the minimum pressure was 954 mb. Within six hours of landfall, the
powerful category 3 storm had quickly weakened to a category 1. And after another twelve hours, the
storm was downgraded to a depression after moving over Virginia. Fran continued on its
north-northwest track, losing its tropical characteristics while it moved
over the eastern Great Lakes.
After it lost its warm core, Fran was declared non-tropical by 8
p.m. September 8th while it was centered over southern
Ontario. Eventually the
remnants of Fran were absorbed into a frontal system around 2 a.m. on the
Figure 4: Color
enhanced IR image of Hurricane Fran at time of landfall near Wilmington,
Fran caused widespread damage from South Carolina to
Ohio, including Maryland and Pennsylvania. The most significant damage occurred
in North Carolina, but record flooding occurred in some states, while the
highest rainfall measurement occurred in northern Virginia (Fig. 5).
Rainfall totals from Bertha (HPC)
Starting in Florida, large swells caused a ship to
capsize throwing its crew overboard.
Everyone was rescued without incident. South Carolina experienced extensive
agricultural damage due to the high winds and heavy rains. An estimated $15 million was lost
due to evacuation of tourists and residents. Overall, roughly $48.5 million in
damage occurred in South Carolina.
North Carolina got the worst of the storm, and therefore
experienced the worst of the damage.
The highest wind gust of 137 mph occurred in the northeast quadrant
of the hurricane: Wilmington, NC.
The North Topsail Beach police station was washed away by a 12 foot
storm surge. The police station
was being temporarily housed in a double wide since Bertha wiped out the
original building just a few months prior. Kure Beach Pier was destroyed
along with the Emerald Isle fishing pier, while Bogue
Inlet Pier lost 150 feet. Storm
surge in North Topsail Beach created a 100-foot wide inlet. Topsail Island lost 40 feet of beach
due to erosion. This also
caused numerous houses to be destroyed. Swansboro and Newbern experienced 10
feet of storm surge, causing many waterfront businesses to be flooded
and/or destroyed. Over 400
homes in Emerald Isle were damaged with about 60 being completely
destroyed. Dune erosion ranged
from 5-20 feet up and down the North Carolina coast. Damages in North Topsail Beach and
Carteret County alone were estimated to be over $500 million (Fig. 6).
Figure 6: Before
(left) and after (right) images of homes damaged along North Topsail Beach
Hurricane force wind gusts were experienced as far
inland as Raleigh. High winds damaged historical buildings. Classes at the University of North
Carolina were canceled for a day and it was almost a week before the water
was drinkable again. Strong
winds and a saturated ground led to many trees being uprooted inland. This led to numerous houses being
destroyed by trees falling on them.
Over a million people were left without power. Almost two weeks after the storm,
150 secondary roads were still closed due to flooding and downed
trees. Out of the 26 deaths
caused by Fran, 14 occurred in North Carolina. Most of them were caused by
accidents from fallen trees, including trees falling on houses and
automobile crashes into fallen trees.
Total insured losses were estimated to be about $1.275 billion.
Virginia’s damage totals were mostly from fallen
trees and power lines and flooding.
Over 400,000 people were without power. Sixteen inches of rain was measured
in Big Meadows located in northern Virginia. Floods shut down many primary and
secondary roads. Even
Shenandoah National Park had to close for a while due to heavy rains and
flooding. Nearly 300 homes were
destroyed by flooding and some 100 people had to be rescued from flood
waters. All rivers in central
Virginia experienced flood stage with some setting record level flood
heights. Numerous counties in
western and central Virginia reported damages of over $1 million.
Maryland, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia also
experienced damage due to flash flooding from heavy rain fall. Far eastern
portions of West Virginia reported upwards of fourteen inches of rain while
Pennsylvania ranged from one inch in the northern areas to six inches
across southern portions of the state.
Ohio was lucky and only experienced damage from small stream flooding
and localized street flooding.
Ohio was pretty dry prior to Fran, so the larger rivers welcomed the
In summary, Hurricane Fran left her mark on the United States,
especially on North Carolina.
It was the second hurricane to hit the North Carolina coast in the
same year; Bertha was a Category 2 when she made landfall just two months
earlier. Due to the extensive
damage in North Carolina, the name Fran was retired from the hurricane name
Case Study Team: