By August 31, Edouard had moved northward, allowing Fran to develop. In the wake of Edouard, a strengthening subtropical ridge, a high-pressure system that helps to steer tropical cyclones, kept Fran on a westerly track. Fran moved quickly to the west-northwest, and passed north of the Bahamas as it reached Category 3 strength on September 4. With winds reaching 115 mph (185 km/h), Hurricane Fran became the third major hurricane of the 1996 Atlantic hurricane season, following Bertha and Edouard.
Large-scale airflow around a large low-pressure centered over the southeastern United States accelerated Fran to the north, causing it to parallel the Florida coastline while staying well offshore. The storm reached peak strength late on September 4 EDT with 120 mph (195 km/h) winds and a minimum central pressure of 945 mbar (hPa) while east of Florida. By this time Fran was recognizable in satellite pictures as unusually large for an Atlantic hurricane.
Fran struck the North Carolina coast very close to Cape Fear around 8:30 p.m. EDT, September 5 1996, with sustained winds of 115 mph (185 km/h). Hurricane-force winds are estimated to have extended northward along the coast as far as Carteret County, despite the storm's oblique angle of landfall. Pressure at landfall is estimated to have been 954 mbar (hPa). The highest wind gust was unofficially measured at 137 mph (220 km/h) about 30 feet (9.1 meters) off the ground on Hewletts Creek between Wilmington and Wrightsville Beach.
After landfall, Fran quickly weakened, dropping to tropical storm strength while passing over Raleigh and central North Carolina and into a tropical depression while over Virginia. The storm became extratropical late on September 8 EDT while over southern Ontario, and continued to disintegrate before being absorbed by a frontal system on the 10th.
Fran caused coastal damage from the South Carolina border to Surf City, North Carolina. Its 12-foot storm surge carried away a temporary North Topsail Beach police station and town hall, housed in a double-wide trailer since Hurricane Bertha's rampage across the same area in July. Extensive flooding struck the coast around Wrightsville Beach, just up the coast from Cape Fear. In Jacksonville, North Carolina, three schools and several homes were damaged. The storm was most damaging to the barrier islands on the North Carolina coastline.
Inland, the storm caused damage on its way north from Wilmington to Raleigh. Unexpectedly, high wind damage extended along the I-40 corridor west of Raleigh as far as Orange County (including damage to centuries-old buildings and treesat the University of North Carolina) and Alamance County. Rain of up to 16 inches (406 mm) deluged interior North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia, bringing dangerous river flooding to much of the mid-Atlantic. Hurricane Fran's thrashing of North Carolina aggravated the state's problems caused by numerous weather disasters in 1996.
At least six people were killed in the Carolinas; most of them were from auto accidents. In North Carolina, 1.3 million people were left without power. In North Topsail Beach and Carteret County, there was over $500 million dollars (1996 USD) in damage and 90% of structures were damaged. One male teenager died from drowning caused by flooding of Crabtree Creek at Old Lassiter Mill in Raleigh.
Rain up to 16 inches 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. Damage totaled $1 billion dollars (1996 USD).
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 75 homes were destroyed, however there were no deaths. At one point on Friday every town in the county was isolated due to high water. "Hurricane Fran Situation Report". Commonwealth of Virginia, Retrieved on 2007-10-03. In the county seat of Luray, a house was lifted off its foundation by the Hawksbill Creek and placed onto Luray High School's football field on the thirty yard line. Water from the Hawksbill reached 2 feet from the top of the field goal upright--sixteen feet 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 creek demolished three buildings, including the Adelphia Cable building.
The Shenandoah River crested some 20 feet above flood stage. The South Fork of the Shenandoah River crested at 37 feet in Front Royal, Virginia, which was 22 feet above the 15 foot flood stage. "Hurricane Fran Situation Report". Commonwealth of Virginia, Retrieved on 2007-10-03.
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. "Hurricane Fran Situation Report". Commonwealth of Virginia, Retrieved on 2007-10-03.
Virginia Poultry Industry's Losses from Hurricane Fran Double Estimates.(Originated from Richmond Times-Dispatch, Va.)
Sep 23, 1996; Sep. 23--Losses in the state's poultry industry caused by Hurricane Fran are more than double previous estimates. About 1.3...
How diesels powered storm cleanup efforts.(diesel-powered equipment used to rebuild North Carolina in the aftermath of Hurricane Fran)
Mar 01, 1997; Light towers, tub grinders instrumental in recovery operations after Hurricane Fran; "the diesel's finest hour" When a natural...