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Hurricane Fran in North Carolina, September 5-6, 1996



Richard D. Marshall


This report describes the surface wind speeds and structural damage caused by Hurricane Fran during its passage across North Carolina and Virginia on 5-6 September 1996. Fran was a category 3 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale, and estimated maximum sustained wind speeds were approximately 36 m/s at Kure Beach, NC, directly north of Cape Fear, the point of landfall. Gust speeds of up to 48 m/s were registered by the C-MAN station at Frying Pan Shoals, located approximately 60 km south-southeast of Cape Fear. Wind damage was extensive over the eastern sections of North Carolina and was caused primarily by falling trees. However, when the probable maximum wind speeds in Hurricane Fran are compared with 50-yr MRI speeds listed in performance-based design standards such as ANSI A58.1 or ASCE 7, it is clear that Fran was substantially less than a design event. There were 36 fatalities in Hurricane Fran, 23 of them in North Carolina. Approximately 4,000 power poles were snapped off in North Carolina and 1,600 km of electrical distribution lines were down. The resulting outages affected more than 2 million customers in South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia. In terms of losses, North Carolina suffered approximately $5 billion in damages, making Fran one of the more destructive hurricanes in recent years. Hurricane Fran caused extensive flooding in North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Ohio. Damage in Virginia and adjacent states was due in large part to local flooding rather than to the direct effects of wind.
Grant/Contract Reports (NISTGCR) - 98-734
Report Number


building technology, codes, standards, hurricanes, natural disasters, structural engineering, wind damage, wind engineering, wind loads


Marshall, R. (1998), Hurricane Fran in North Carolina, September 5-6, 1996, Grant/Contract Reports (NISTGCR), National Institute of Standards and Technology, Gaithersburg, MD, [online], (Accessed February 26, 2024)
Created January 1, 1998, Updated February 19, 2017