There are several four letter words, but Fran I use the most. It was the second hurricane to directly hit North Carolina that summer. Underrated Hurricane Fran would become something that people still talk about today. The impact and devastation went from Florida up into the New England states. During this time frame, I was stationed at Camp Lejune North Carolina and experienced the heart of the damage.
Underrated Hurricane Fran developed from a tropical wave that moved off the coast of Africa on August 22nd. Early on it was headed for Florida. The storm followed closely behind a powerful Hurricane Edouard which prevented Fran from quickly developing. Edouard would move far enough out to sea to allow Fran to develop into a powerful Category 3 hurricane before making landfall on the southeast North Carolina coast. Hurricane Fran was the second hurricane to slam into the North Carolina coast in the same season. Hurricane Bertha was a Category 2 hurricane when she hit just two months earlier. Once Edouard moved out of the way, Hurricane Fran had room to grow. During this time the subtropical ridge became well established, acting as a conveyor belt for Fran to pick up speed. Once the hurricane turned north, everyone knew it was headed for North Carolina.
Destroying the rest
When underrated Hurricane Fran came ashore on September 5, 1996, it dealt another blow to North Carolina. After coming ashore at the mouth of the Cape Fear River, the storm did something that no other storm had done, it followed the river inland. Even though the pressure increased and the winds backed off, the storm used the river as a moisture supply. The highest wind speed recorded was 137 mph in Wilmington. Topsail Islands temporary police station was dragged out into the sea. The original building was lost during Bertha two months earlier. The storm surge was 10-12 feet and due to the angle of the storm, it destroyed several historic piers. As the winds backed off and the rain increased. The barrier islands lost sand dunes and houses, while the eastern part of the state laid under water.
After every storm, you have the people who insist on returning. We always want to fix what has been broken. The communities rallied around and rebuilt the homes, piers and municipal buildings. It was several years before another storm came and put North Carolina in its crosshairs. Many of those communities are located on barrier islands or sand bars as the locals call them. Sometimes it makes you wonder if the next storm will be their last.