Thursday, July 11, 2013

Sept. 5-6, 1996, Hurricane Fran's Stories


Hurricane Fran
Category 3 hurricane (SSHS)
Hurricane Fran at maximum strength
FormedAugust 23, 1996
DissipatedSeptember 8, 1996
Highest winds1-minute sustained:
120 mph (195 km/h)
Lowest pressure946 mbar (hPa); 27.94 inHg
Fatalities22 direct, 5 indirect
Damage$3.2 billion (1996 USD)
Areas affectedSouth Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Toronto
Part of the 1996 Atlantic hurricane season

Hurricane Fran caused extensive damage in the United States in early September 1996. The sixth named storm, fifth hurricane, and fourth major hurricane of the 1996 Atlantic hurricane season, Fran developed from a tropical wave near Cape Verde on August 23.

Due to nearby Hurricane Edouard, the depression remained disorganized as it tracked westward, though it eventually intensified into Tropical Storm Fran on August 27. While heading west-northwestward, Fran steadily strengthened into a hurricane on August 29, but weakened back to a tropical storm on the following day. On August 31, Fran quickly re-intensified into a hurricane. By September 2, Fran began to parallel the islands of the Bahamas and slowly curved north-northwestward. Fran peaked as a 120 mph (195 km/h) Category 3 hurricane by early on September 5.

Thereafter, Fran weakened slightly, before it made landfall near Cape Fear, North Carolina early on September 6. The storm rapidly weakened inland and was only a tropical depression later that day. Eventually, Fran curved east-northeastward and transitioned into an extra tropical cyclone over Ontario early on September 9.

Large waves in North Carolina caused significant coastal flooding in some cities. Overall, Fran was attributed to 27 fatalities and $3.2 billion (1996 USD) in damage.


In Virginia, winds between 39 and 73 mph (63 and 117 km/h) lashed Chesapeake Bay and increased water levels in the Potomac River around the nation's capital, where it backed up into Georgetown and Old Town Alexandria, Virginia.

There was severe damage to power lines that left 415,000 people without electricity, making it the largest storm related power outage in history until Hurricane Isabel in 2003.[18] Along the Rappahannock River, a storm surge of 5 ft (1.5 m) damaged or sank several small boats and damaged wharfs and bulkheads. This was the highest tide in the state since Hurricane Hazel of 1954.[18]
Rain up to 16 in (410 mm) fell in the western part of Virginia, making Fran the fourth wettest known tropical cyclone to impact Virginia and causing major flash flooding.

The floods shut down many of the primary and secondary roads and closed Shenandoah National Park.

Fran destroyed about 300 homes, mostly from flooding, and 100 people had to be rescued.
Page County was the hardest hit locality in the state of Virginia with regards to damage. Three days after the storm had passed, "hundreds" of people were still stranded. Some 78 homes were destroyed and 417 were damaged, however there were no deaths. At one point on Friday every town in the county was isolated due to high water.[19]

In the county seat of Luray, the Hawksbill Creek cut the town in half for much of the day, and the strong current forced a house off its foundation and placed in the endzone of Luray High School's football field. Water from the Hawksbill reached 2 ft (0.61 m) from the top of the field goal upright— 16 ft (4.9 m) of water covered the ground. Bulldog field was flooded for over a week after the storm, until finally the standing water was pumped across U.S. Route 340 back into the Hawksbill Creek.

Also in downtown Luray, the large flood-driven waves of the creek demolished three buildings, including the Adelphia Cable building. The creek, typically less than a foot deep, overtook the downtown Main Street Bridge, which rises some 15 ft (4.6 m) above the creek bed.[20]

The Shenandoah River crested some 20 ft (6.1 m) above flood stage. The South Fork of the Shenandoah River crested at 37 ft (11 m) in Front Royal, Virginia, which was 22 ft (6.7 m) above the 15 ft (4.6 m) flood stage.[21]

In Rockingham County, Virginia, over 10,000 people were evacuated from their homes, however most were allowed to return to their homes after the water subsided.[22]


A sign put up by a resident of North Carolina, Topsail Island following the severe damage from Fran

The Cape Fear River watershed was devastated by Fran. Severe water quality problems persisted for weeks. The Northeast Cape Fear river suffered a massive fish kill. Sewage treatment plant failures led to millions of liters of raw and partially treated human sewage to flow into area rivers. Dissolved oxygen content fell to nearly zero across the Cape Fear and Northeast Cape Fear Rivers for over three weeks, which led to hypoxia in the Cape Fear estuary for several weeks. Ammonium and phosphorus levels increased, with concentrations of phosphorus reaching a 27-year high.[35]