Hurricane Fran was the sixth named storm, fifth hurricane, and third major hurricane of the 1996 Atlantic hurricane season, forming from a tropical wave that exited the coast of Africa on August 22. Fran made landfall near Cape Fear, NC as a Category 3 hurricane. Fran caused more than $3,000,000,000 (1996 USD) in damage along the Eastern seaboard of the United States. Fran also caused 26 deaths, all direct.

Fran at peak intensity
Formation August 23, 1996
Dissipation September 8, 1996
Highest winds 120 mph
Lowest pressure 946 mbar
Deaths 26 direct
Damages $3.2 billion (1996 USD)
Areas affected South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania

Meteorological History

On August 22, a tropical wave moved off the coast of Africa. The wave quickly gained deep convection and a recognizable circulation, and it organized into a tropical depression on August 23, southeast of the Cape Verde Islands. The depression continued to move westward across the Atlantic Ocean without strengthening, due to the outflow from powerful Hurricane Edouard, which restricted the depression's inflow. Nevertheless, the depression became Tropical Storm Fran on August 27, located well east of the Lesser Antilles. Fran continued to strengthen as it followed the path of Edouard, and on August 29, Fran reached hurricane strength before weakening back to a tropical storm on August 30. By August 31, Edouard had moved northward, which allowed Fran to begin to develop. In the wake of Edouard, a strengthening in the subtropical ridge kept Fran on a westerly track. Fran quickly moved to the west-northwest, and passed north of the Bahamas on September 4, reaching Category 3 strength as it did so.

Large-scale airflow around a large low-pressure area centered over the southeastern United States caused Fran to move to the north, causing it to parallel the coast of Florida while remaining well offshore. Late on September 4, reaching 120 mph winds and a pressure of 946 mb, while located to the east of Florida. By this time, Fran was recognized in satellite images as an unusually large Atlantic hurricane, although the exact size of Fran is not known, because Hurricane Hunter aircraft did not directly measure the size of storms at the time. Around 8:30 PM EDT on September 5, Fran made landfall very close to Cape Fear, with winds of 115 mph. Hurricane-force winds were said to extend as far north on the coast as Carteret County, despite Fran's oblique angle of landfall. After landfall, Fran quickly weakened, weakening back to a tropical storm while passing over Raleigh in central North Carolina, and weakening to a tropical depression while over Virginia. Late on September 8, Fran became an extratropical cyclone while over southern Ontario, and continued to degenerate before being absorbed by a frontal system on the 10th.


Fran killed 26 people and property damage is estimated at $3.2 billion (1996 USD).

South Carolina

In South Carolina, Fran caused $15,000,000 (1996 USD) in damage and also caused significant crop damage.

North Carolina

In North Carolina, Fran caused coastal damage stretching from the South Carolina border to Surf City, North Carolina. The 12-foot storm surge Fran produced carried away a temporary North Topsail Beach police station and townhall that was housed in a double-wide trailer, since Hurricane Bertha's rampage across the same area of the state in July. Also, extensive flooding struck the coast near Wrightsville Beach, just up the coast from Cape Fear. In Jacksonville, North Carolina, three schools and several homes were damaged by the hurricane. Fran was most damaging to the barrier islands along the North Carolina coastline. Fran caused damage on its way to Wilmington and Raleigh. Rainfall of up to 15 inches deluged interior North Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia. This brought dangerous river flooding to much of the Mid-Atlantic States. Fran's thrashing of North Carolina aggravated the state's problems caused by numerous weather disasters in 1996.

At least 6 people were killed in South Carolina and North Carolina, with most of them being from auto accidents. In North Carolina, 1.3 million people were left without power as a result of Fran. In North Topsail Beach and Carteret County, there was over $500,000,000 (1996 USD) in damage, and 90% of the structures were damaged. Also, one teenage male died from drowning caused by flooding of Crabtree Creek at Old Lassiter Mill in Raleigh.


In Virginia, winds reached between 39 and 73 mph at the Chesapeake Bay and increased water levels in the Potomac River around the nation's capital, where the water backed up into Georgetown and Old Town Alexandria, Virginia. Also, there was severe damage to power lines that left 415,000 people without electricity, making it the largest storm-related power outage in history in the state until Hurricane Isabel in 2003. Along the Tappahanock River, a storm surge of 5 feet damaged or sank several small boats and damaged wharfs and buckheads. This tide was the highest in the state since Hurricane Hazel in 1954.

Rainfall of up to 16 inches fell in the western parts of Virginia, causing major flash flooding. The floods shut down many of the primary and secondary roads, and it also closed down Shenandoah National Park. Fran destroyed about 300 homes in the state, mostly from flooding, and 100 people had to be rescued. Damage totaled to $1,000,000,000 (1996 USD) in Virginia. In Luray, Virginia, a house was lifted off its foundation by the Hawksbill Creek and placed into Bulldog Field, Luray High School's baseball and football field complex. In downtown Luray, the creek demolished three buildings, including the Adelphia Cable building.


Western Maryland fared the worst from Fran, being affected mainly by flash flooding from the weakening cyclone. About 650 homes were damaged and total damage was $100,000,000 (1996 USD). This was the worst flood event to hit Maryland since Hurricane Hazel in 1954, and the January flood of 1996.

Washington D.C.

Washington D.C. also suffered flood damage from Fran. The flooding closed roads, which stranded motorists and damaged the National Park Area. Total damage in Washington D.C. from Fran was $20,000,000 (1996 USD).

West Virginia

In West Virginia, about 14 inches of rain fell from Fran, which caused widespread flash flooding. Hardy and Pendleton Counties were hardest hit by Fran, with floods sweeping away several bridges, and damaging several water plants and causing a reported gas leak.

Pennsylvania and Ohio

Fran produced flash flooding in about 15 counties in Pennsylvania, with rainfall of up to 9 inches hit the state. This caused the Juniata River to overflow its banks, thus causing flooding. In Ohio, localized flooding was reported.


Because of its effects, the name Fran was retired in the Spring of 1997 by the World Meteorological Organization. It was replaced with Fay for the 2002 Atlantic hurricane season, and is on the list of names to be used in the 2008 Atlantic hurricane season.

See Also

1996 Atlantic hurricane season