SEPTEMBER 6, 1996
As Hurricane Fran looms off the East coast, Jim Lehrer gets an update on its trajectory from a specialist at the National Hurricane Center in Miami.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Lyons, welcome.
STEVE LYONS, National Hurricane Center: Hello.
JIM LEHRER: Where is the hurricane right now, sir?
STEVE LYONS: Well, it's right off the North Carolina/South Carolina border, moving to the North/Northwest at about 16 miles an hour.
JIM LEHRER: And when do you expect it to come fully ashore?
STEVE LYONS: Probably well before midnight at the current speed of motion, probably between nine and midnight tonight.
JIM LEHRER: Nine and midnight. All right, now, where along in that border area will be the--where will be the major area it'll come ashore?
STEVE LYONS: Well, right now, we're looking right at the coast over to Wilmington area, sort of focusing on Wilmington as it takes a little more Northward turn with time. But the thing to not concentrate on is the individual center because we've got very strong winds well off to the Northeast out here, and this whole area up here can experience some winds upwards of 100 miles an hour in the next six hours or so.
JIM LEHRER: And how large is that? It's hard to tell on your map there. In terms of what's the serious matter, how large is that hurricane?
STEVE LYONS: Well, we have hurricane force winds out 140 miles from the center. So 140 miles is about out into this distance here, and so strong winds upwards of 100 miles an hour can--basically about half that distance.
JIM LEHRER: And so people in that area from--from all along the border, all along the coast of North Carolina and South Carolina should expect winds of 100 miles an hour or more, is that correct?
STEVE LYONS: Well, they can expect hurricane force winds. We've seen reports already of gusts to 100 miles per hour, but sustained winds of at least sixty-five or seventy miles per hour is quite possible.
JIM LEHRER: All right, now the--what does that mean? I mean, how serious--what--give us an idea of the kind of impact that's going to have when it hits these areas.
STEVE LYONS: Well, if you're in the area where it's hardest hit with 150 miles per hour, you can see some significant damage to vegetation, trees down. If windows are exposed and not covered, a lot of those may be broken out by flying debris or actually broken by, by the wind impact itself. Some roots that are not constructed properly may blow off. It's quite possible that might happen, especially in strong squall lines associated with thunderstorms or rain bands near the center of the storm.
JIM LEHRER: Now you say sometime between 9 and 12. That means where you--that depends on where you live, right?
STEVE LYONS: That's right.
JIM LEHRER: So you're taking--what's the first area that's going to be hit around 9 o'clock?
STEVE LYONS: Well, basically, the whole area right now is being hit. The timing of land fall is probably the time of maximum wind speed all up and down the coast for the most part, until you get way up into the Cape Hatteras region. That's going to be later. But in the greater Wilmington area out about 65 miles on either side, you're experiencing strong winds now, and they'll continue to get worse all the way to land fall.
JIM LEHRER: And what do you expect to happen once it--once there's land fall, what happens to the storm? What do you expect it to do?
STEVE LYONS: Usually, we see rapid demise of the circulation. In other words, it weakens fairly quickly as it goes inland, but still we expect hurricane force winds to extend as far as 100 miles inland associated with this storm. So when I say quickly, it's a relative term. It'll still be a hurricane way up into Central North Carolina much later tonight or early into the morning hours.
JIM LEHRER: Now, a lot of times, these hurricanes then follow the coast up a ways with heavy rain and that sort of thing. Should that be expected in this case as well?
STEVE LYONS: Well, luckily, it sped up a little bit. It's moving now at 16 miles an hour. That's a little bit good for the inland areas because that means that the potential for heavy rain is a little bit less, but we're still expecting anywhere from five to ten inches from this. And local areas can have higher amounts than that. So inland it's not so much wind but a heavy rain problem, and a potential for tornadic activity on the East side of the eye inland slightly.
JIM LEHRER: So you expect it to break up over land. You don't expect it to keep going up the Coast.
STEVE LYONS: It should continue as a--as an entity well up into the Northeast, yes. It should not break up completely, but just weaken significantly.
JIM LEHRER: Now, what does that mean, continue as--in what form will it continue?
STEVE LYONS: Well, it'll be a hurricane well inland and then eventually weaken into a tropical storm, and then probably become an extra tropical circulation in about two days or so.
JIM LEHRER: For historical purposes, put this one into some kind of a perspective for us. How does it compare with Hugo? How does it compare with some of the other major hurricanes that we've had in past years?
STEVE LYONS: Well, so far, what we're looking at is circulation that's as least as large as Hugo but significantly weaker, at least as best we can measure so far. Based on satellite and aircraft reconnaissance measurement's, it's quite a bit weaker. So the damage to the immediate coast should be less. The storm surge should be lower, but it should still be significant damage. This is a major hurricane.
JIM LEHRER: Now, Hugo, we should remind people, is the one who did serious damage in the Charleston, South Carolina, area.
STEVE LYONS: And that was a category four hurricane. This is a--sort of a weak category three. I'm not trying to downplay it, but in comparison to Charleston, the damage would probably be less.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Mr. Lyons, thank you very much.
STEVE LYONS: You're welcome.