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Hurricane Frances was the sixth named storm, fourth hurricane, and third major hurricane of the 2004 Atlantic hurricane season. Frances formed on August 25 in the open Atlantic Ocean well to the east of the Lesser Antilles. Frances moved west-northwest and then northwest, and for a time, it was expected to threaten Bermuda. However, a change in the steering pattern caused Frances to move back to the west-northwest, where it posed a threat to the Bahamas and Florida. Frances strengthened to reach Category 4 status, packing winds of 145 mph. Frances passed through the Bahamas and impacted it some degree from September 2 to September 5, until it made landfall along the east coast of Florida. Frances made landfall near Hutchinson Island, Florida early on September 5 with winds of 105 mph, a Category 2 hurricane. Frances then emerged into the Gulf of Mexico, where it moved northwest and struck the Florida Panhandle near St. Marks, Florida as a tropical storm. Frances moved north-northeast and finally dissipated on September 10.

Frances caused $9.6 billion (2004 USD) in damage and killed 49 people; 7 direct, 42 indirect.

Frances as a Category 4 hurricane
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FormationAugust 25, 2004
Dissipation September 10, 2004
Highest winds 145 mph
Lowest pressure 935 mbar
Deaths 7 direct, 42 indirect
Damages $9.6 billion (2004 USD)
Areas affectedBritish Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, Turks and Caicos Islands, Bahamas, Florida, Georgia, North and South Carolina, Ohio, and other states, southeast Canada
Part of the 2004 Atlantic hurricane season

Meteorological history

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A vigorous tropical wave exited the coast of Africa on August 21. Convection associated with the wave gradually became better organized, and Dvorak classifications were taken on the wave on August 24. The wave developed into Tropical Depression Six near 0000 UTC August 25 while located about 655 miles west-southwest of the southernmost Cape Verde Islands. After forming, the depression moved westward along the southern periphery of the subtropical ridge, intensifying as it did so. It strengthened into Tropical Storm Frances later on August 24. Frances became a hurricane on August 26, and it turned west-northwest on this day as well. Frances continued moving west-northwest until August 28, at which point Frances reached its first peak intensity of 135 mph, Category 4 on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale.

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Frances on August 27 as seen aboard the International Space Station.

Late on August 29, Frances turned back to the west while slowly weakening due to an eyewall replacement cycle. Frances began to re-intensify on August 30, and it reached a secondary peak of 145 mph late on August 31 as it passed north of the Leeward Islands and the Virgin Islands. Through September 1 and 2, Frances moved west-northwest, which brought the center of the hurricane just north of the Turks and Caicos Islands as well as the southeastern Bahamas. During this time, Frances's winds remained at 140 to 145 mph while Frances underwent a series of eyewall replacement cycles. Late on September 2, moderate westerly vertical wind shear began to impact Frances, and Frances weakened considerably over the next two days.

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Frances as a Category 4 hurricane on September 2.

Frances was a Category 3 hurricane with 115 to 130 mph winds as it passed over the central Bahamas on September 2 and 3, and a Category 2 hurricane with winds of 100 to 105 mph over the northwestern Bahamas on September 3 and 4. Steering currents weakened as Frances reached the northwestern Bahamas due to a ridge of high pressure building to the west of the cyclone. Frances moved slowly westward across the Gulf Stream on September 4. The shear weakened, which enabled Frances to re-intensify slightly over the Gulf Stream, followed by slight weakening as Frances made landfall over the southern end of Hutchinson Island, Florida near 0430 UTC September 5 as a Category 2 hurricane with winds of 105 mph. Frances gradually weakened after landfall as it moved west-northwest across the Florida Peninsula, and it weakened to a tropical storm just before emerging into the northeastern Gulf of Mexico near New Port Richey early on September 6. Frances did not strengthen over the Gulf of Mexico, and its winds stayed in the 60 to 65 mph range, and its pressure stayed an unusually low 982 mb. Frances moved northwest and made its final landfall near the mouth of the Aucilla River in the Florida Big Bend region about 1800 UTC 6 September. Frances continued to move northwest until September 7, when the cyclone recurved northeastward into the westerlies over eastern Alabama and western Georgia. Early on September 7, Frances weakened to a tropical depression and became an extratropical cyclone over West Virginia early on September 9. Frances's extratropical remnants briefly had gale-force winds as it accelerated northeastward over New York later on September 9. Frances's remnants turned eastward over northern New England and southeastern Canada, and finally dissipated over the Gulf of St. Lawrence on September 10.

Preparations

The insurance industry warned of the potential for catastrophic damage along Florida's heavily populated east coast. According to a Reuters story, "Investment bank UBS AG warned this latest storm could 'exceed the insured losses of Hurricane Andrew.'" Andrew was, at the time, the most damaging hurricane to ever strike the United States, with total damage from that storm estimated to be at $26.5 billion (1992 USD). These damage estimates were in anticipation that Frances would strike Florida as a Category 4 hurricane. Early on September 1, preparations for the storm were stepped up in Florida. Governor Jeb Bush declared a state of emergency for the state, Kennedy Space Center closed down, and 500,000 people were ordered to evacuate initially. Eventually, a total of 41 counties in the state were ordered to evacuate, covering 2.8 million residents, and making it the largest evacuation in Florida's history. The state's education system also prepared for Frances's onslaught, as many universities cancelled classes. Both the University of Central Florida and University of North Florida told all students to leave their dorms. Evacuation at the University of South Florida was preformed on a dorm-by-dorm basis. Also, Florida Atlantic University was closed for a week and a half because of the hurricane. Most schools were shut down from southern Miami-Dade County to just south of Melbourne two days before the hurricane.

Impact

The economic impacts from Frances were felt early, since the storm struck on Labor Day weekend, which is typically the final summer vacation weekend in the United States. Many hotels reservations from Florida to South Carolina were cancelled, as people, seeing the destruction that Hurricane Charley caused earlier in the month, decided to avoid the coastal areas for safety reasons. One death in the Bahamas, one in Ohio, and five deaths in Florida were directly attributed to Hurricane Frances. 42 more deaths -- 32 in Florida, 8 in Georgia, and one in the Bahamas as well as Ohio, are indirectly attributed to Frances.

Bahamas

In the Bahamas, insurers as well as reinsurers estimated that Frances caused about $300,000,000 (2004 USD) in insured damage to the islands. Like with other hurricane-induced damage, to get the total damage in the area, the insured damage is multiplied by a factor of 2, which comes out to $600 million.

Florida

In Florida, where Frances made its United States landfall, some locations received 13 inches of rain from the very slow-moving tropical cyclone. Similar to Hurricane Charley, which struck earlier in the month, Frances caused significant damage to the large Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center, ripping off over 1,000 4-by-10 aluminum panels used to clad the building. Charley only caused $700,000 (2004 USD) in damage to the center, but Frances caused much more to it. Two external fuel tanks used for the space shuttle were located in the building, although they were undamaged. Also, the Space Shuttle Discovery's hangar was without power as a result of the hurricane's impact. Total damage to the space and military facilities around Cape Canaveral, Florida is estimated to be at $100,000,000 (2004 USD). The theme parks in Orlando were closed, which was only the third time Walt Disney World was closed for a hurricane, but this was the second time in a month, with the other time in the month being for Hurricane Charley. In the aftermath of the storm, many college and school districts remained closed. President George W. Bush declared the entire state a federal disaster area.

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President George W. Bush delivering water at a relief center in Ft. Pierce,
Florida.

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Xenon lights illuminate the 525 ft. (160 m) tall Vehicle Assembly Building at
Kennedy Space Center as workers make repairs on September 30, 2004.

Rest of the United States

Frances produced very heavy rainfall in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina. The passage of Frances when it weakened to a tropical depression produced 5 inches of rain of rain in Georgia and caused the closings of schools in a total of 56 counties. Even in the Mid-Atlantic States as well as New England, Frances caused flooding, particularly along the Appalachian Mountains. A strip of upslope-induced rainfall along the Blue Ridge escarpment produced as much as 23 inches of rain in some areas of western North Carolina as warm tropical air surged upward over the mountains. The flooding caused by this very heavy rainfall along the Swannanoa River near the city of Asheville, North Carolina produced a major break in Asheville's water distribution system, which left the city without water for several days. In addition the flooding, Frances spawned 101 tornadoes from Florida to Virginia, just shy of the record set for the most tornado-spawning tropical cyclone, which is Hurricane Beulah in 1967. Frances also caused up to 6,000,000 people to be without electricity. Also, over 20 airports closed during the storm.

The total civilian damage from Frances was determined to be approximately $8,830,000,000 (2004 USD). Add in the estimated US $100,000,000 in damage (2004 USD) done to space and military facilities at Cape Canaveral, Florida and the total damage was estimated to be about US $9,000,000,000 (2004 USD), making it the fourth costliest hurricane in United States history at that time, behind Hurricane Andrew of 1992 and hurricanes Charley and Ivan of 2004. At the time, adjusted for inflation, it became the seventh costliest hurricane for the lower 48 United States.

Canada

Frances's extratropical remnants passed through the southern portion of Ontario. Frances produced 5.39 inches of rain there, washing out roads and causing localized flooding in Quebec, New Brunswick, and in Newfoundland. The rain produced by Frances broke the all-time rainfall records in a 24-hour period, as most of the rain fell in a 6 to 8 hour period. Ottawa's O-Train transit rail was stopped because of a landslide that obstructed the railroad corridor. Also, several major roads in Gatineau and Ottawa were under several feet of water, locally chest-high water. Total damage in Canada from Frances is estimated to be at $35,000,000 (2004 USD).

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Rainfall totals from Hurricane Frances.

Retirement

Because of the extreme damage, the name Frances was retired in the Spring of 2005 by the World Meteorological Organization. It was replaced with Fiona for the 2010 Atlantic hurricane season. The WMO was going to retire the name Frances in the Spring of 2005 regardless if it caused significant damage or not, due to a request from France during the WMO meeting in the Spring of 2003.

See Also

2004 Atlantic hurricane season

References

http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/2004frances.shtml

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hurricane_Frances

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