09/02/04 — Local officials keep watch on Frances

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Local officials keep watch on Frances

By Karinne Young
Published in News on September 2, 2004 2:01 PM

Similarities between 1996's Hurricane Fran and today's Hurricane Frances are making some people edgy.

Although the National Weather Service's Tropical Prediction Center is becoming more confident that Frances will come ashore in Florida, it is also saying that any fluctuation in the hurricane's track now could result in a drastic change a few days down the road.

Mel Powers, Wayne County assistant emergency services coordinator, said the next 24 to 36 hours should tell how or if the system will affect the county.

"Right now," he said, "we are getting everything prepared as if it would be a direct hit, so that at a moment's notice we could get everything in play."

Powers said that generally if the storm stays on the Florida track, the county could see remnants in the form of heavy rain Monday or Tuesday. "We don't want to see it dump a whole lot of rain west of us either," he said. The problem then is its effect on the Neuse River downstream.

Powers said the National Weather Service recently changed the flood stage for the Neuse River from 14 feet to 18 feet. "Because of buyouts following Fran and Floyd, there's nothing there to be damaged," he said.

Both Fran and Frances originated in the same location off the coast of Africa on the same calendar day, Aug. 23. Both have churned a similar path toward the United States in about the same time frame.

As Fran moved westward, evacuations were ordered first for the Florida coast, then for beaches in Georgia and South Carolina. The hurricane came ashore at Wilmington on Sept. 5 after millions had been forced to leave coastal areas in three states.

Despite predictions, Fran had turned northward. Later, forecasters said the influence of Tropical Storm Gustav, preceding Fran by just a few days, caused the unexpected shift in its track.

There is no Gustav this year. There's been no Bertha. No Dennis as in 1999 when Floyd hit. But there has been rain, about 7 inches in the last month.

And even residual rains from Frances, wherever it makes landfall, could create problems in Wayne.

The Neuse River measured 14 feet at the Goldsboro gauge this morning. It's expected to crest around 16 feet on Saturday, but the crest could be higher when Wednesday's rains are figured in to new crest projections later today.

In Goldsboro, an inch of rain fell Wednesday. The ground is still wet if not saturated from rain that fell during Hurricane Charley, as well as Alex and Bonnie in mid-August.

When it comes to tropical weather, history rarely repeats itself and no two storms are ever the same.

Emergency officials will give the same good advice they always do, keep an eye on the storm, monitor weather reports and make sure emergency kits are updated with fresh batteries, canned or non-perishable food, medical items, first aid kits, bottled water.

It's good advice. Residents did little to prepare for Fran and found it to be a nasty surprise.