Hurricane Fran – A Meteorologist’s Perspective

Hurricane Fran – A Meteorologist’s Perspective
by Chris Thompson

Meterorologists have a tendency to isolate ourselves from the elements we talk about. Not that that is good or bad, it’s just the nature of the business. Satellites give us a view from 23,000 miles up, radar gives us a decent advance warning, and of course, all the copious amounts of data we get via computer although useful, is somewhat unfeeling. The idea of covering a hurricane, in person, although somewhat ludicrous, had a definite appeal.

As photographer Gil Hollingsworth and I made our way towards Wilmington, a steady 20-15 mph wind buffeted LiveStar as we drove up the coast. Once in Wrightsville Beach, we found a protected area on the back side of a shopping center to set up for the afternoon newscasts. The rain and wind were brutal at this point. By the time the 5:00 news started, we were experiencing sustained winds of 40-45 mph with gusts near 60 mph. On, and the rain, it was a struggle to keep things dry.

Calls into the Weather Center let us know that Fran’s track and speed had changed. She was coming towards us at an accelerated rate. A strong east wind told me that she was still to our south. As darkness fell, we lost our reference points of the trees bending in the fierce winds. Other than the occasional glow of a transformer going, or lightning whose thunder could barely be heard over the constant clamor of the wind, there was little to see. Other senses kicked in, hearing more than anything. The wind would roar by overhead, sounding like a low flying jet, trees and power poles were snapping in the distance and pieces of building were being shaken loose by the relentless wind. Then, the strong east wind started to shift. It seemed to come from every direction. Then it started from the south. A south wind would put the eye to our west: Fran’s eye was just west of Wilmington.

Around 1:00 a.m., we finished packing up. As we headed out of Wilmington, some of Fran’s damage could be seen. Trees everywhere. Big Trees! Boats pressed up against a bridge by the marina. Powerlines down everywhere. The intense darkness would allow us to see only what the car’s headlights could show.

Fran’s path through North Carolina.

We got to a hotel around 3:00 a.m. All I wanted was dry feet and a nice rest. The fire alarm woke us up as the power came on for a few seconds. No fire, just the electricity.

Daylight brought the full wrath of Fran into view. The trip up I-40 was a real eye opener for me. Six to twelve inches of water flowing across the Interstate in a few places, along with crop and farm building damage, were the view the whole trip.

When we got to Raleigh, I was totally unprepared for what I saw. We tend to forget that these storms can spread their destruction so far inland. It happened when Hugo traveled into Columbia and Charlotte, but that was them, and not us.

Some scenes from the devastated Carolina Coast.


FRAN’S FURY – HOW WE FARED

On Thursday, September 5, Hurricane Fran blew across the Triangle causing millions of dollars in damage and leaving thousands of people without power. With all of the damage that Fran caused, CBC divisions had to scramble to continue business as usual, or as close to usual as possible.

Mix 101.5, powered by a generator, devoted its airwaves to the listeners. “Everyone had a story to tell and we let them on-the-air to share it,” said Steve Reynolds, Program Director, “most people were totally cut off from the outside world and we wanted to let them know everything was okay.”

For the benefit of those without television and unable to pick up WRAL-TV’s comprehensive Hurricane Fran news coverage, WRAL-TV news was simulcast on WRAL-FM. The two stations worked together to inform residents of closed roads, business and school cancellations, and most of all, where to go to get supplies to survive without electricity, bottled water, ice food, batteries, and gasoline.

At the Interpath Network Operations Center and Helpdesk, everyone dug in to keep the Interpath network up and running. With no power in the 711 Building, it was a struggle to get power to necessary equipment. WRAL-FM’s generator was a lifesaver, but did not cover everything, so flashlights and some creative wiring techniques were employed. Technicians had most sites up within 24 hours. Other sites, such as Chapel Hill and Research Triangle Park, took a bit longer. Most sties were back on-line by Sunday.

Microspace Communications came through Hurricane Fran with good fortune. With double staffing the night of the storm and with backup power systems, the main uplink facility worked flawlessly. The Auburn site ran on generator for nearly 48 hours perfectly. After refueling, there were problems that required corrective action. “All in all, our customers were served exceptionally well,” commented Joe Amor, Vice President of Microspace.

Capitol Networks also fared well in the storm. Other than being without power and running on a generator for a few days, things went smoothly. They were able to broadcast the North Carolina State football game that Saturday.

Some scenes of the devestation in the Triangle

The hardest hit divisions were WDNC and the Durham Bulls, who returned to work after the storm to find no power, and the Bulls were flooded. WDNC was only off the air for a few hours, thanks to two generators, one at the transmitter site and the other at the ballpark. Power returned Monday morning, but in the meantime, WDNC employees had to work in the dark because the generator had only enough power to run the board, not the lights. Overall during the storm, WDNC was able to provide listeners with up to date news and a Washington Redskins football game.

Through it all, CBC managed to survive Fran’s Fury with only a few problems. Now the cleanup continues as we wait to see what winter has in store for the already battered Triangle.

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