Sunny skies belie day's dangerous history

Posted September 6, 2009 2:23 p.m. EDT
Updated September 6, 2009 3:16 p.m. EDT

— Tar Heels celebrating the Labor Day weekend Sunday enjoyed clear, sunny skies ideal for outdoor activities. The recent cool snap made it easy to forget that early September is the most active time of the year for tropical storms.

So far this season has been a bust, meteorologically speaking, but history shows Sept. 6 has seen two destructive storms in North Carolina.

In 1996, Hurricane Fran came ashore on Sept. 6 near Cape Fear. Many North Carolinians have personal memories of Fran, the second most desctructive storm in state history.

Fran earned the moniker as the Paul Bunyan of North Carolina hurricanes, felling thousands of trees with the sharp blade of its wind power.

Half-a-million tourists and residents rushed inland as Fran took aim at the coast and then forced its way toward the Triangle. Landfall came near Bald Head Island, with winds of 115 mph and a storm surge between 8 and 12 feet. Wrightsville Beach and Topsail Island were heavily damaged, but that was just the beginning.

With winds still near hurricane strength, Fran blasted the Triangle, hitting the region harder than any hurricane since Hazel in 1954. It left a landscape littered without trees in virtually every neighborhood and power outages that lasted for more than a week.

Damage from Fran was so widespread that a state of emergency was declared in all of North Carolina's 100 counties – the first time in state history. Damage was pegged at $2.3 billion, and 24 people died.

Twelve years later, the state got washed out again when Tropical Storm Hanna came ashore at Sunset Beach, on the state line, packing 50 mph winds at 3:20 a.m. Sept. 6, 2008. Buoys off Wrightsville Beach reported sustained winds of 53 mph and gusts up to 67 mph.

Authorities asked residents and tourist to evacuate seven coastal counties, and tens of thousands of homes were without power during the height of the storm. Compared to Fran, Hanna was a minor inconvenience. 

There were no major injuries and no reported fatalities.