Irene: Strongest Hurricane to Hit Carolinas Since 1996

August 23, 2011; 2:12 PM ET
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Irene is projected to become the strongest hurricane to hit the Carolinas since 1996 this weekend. Six years have passed since the entire United States endured a blow like Irene is forecast to unleash.

The AccuWeather.com Hurricane Center is expecting Irene to blast onto the Carolina coastline in between Myrtle Beach and Morehead City this weekend as a strong Category 3 hurricane.

Irene even has a good chance of strengthen into a dangerous Category 4 hurricane by Thursday, and it is not out of the question that Irene maintains this powerful strength through its landfall in the Carolinas.

Whether at strong Category 3 or 4 status, Irene will pose a serious threat to lives and property at landfall as reported by AccuWeather.com Expert Senior Meteorologist Alex Sosnowski.

Residents of the Carolinas should not underestimate the power Irene has the potential to unleash, especially since these states have not been the target of such a fierce hurricane in 15 years.

Fran from 1996 was the last hurricane to strike the Carolinas with Category 3 strength (the threshold for a major hurricane).

Fran barreled onshore with maximum-sustained winds of 115 mph in the vicinity of Cape Fear, N.C., a location that could lie in the direct path of Hurricane Irene this weekend.

Fran was responsible for the deaths of 34 people from the Carolinas to Pennsylvania. Most of the deaths were caused by flash flooding with 21 people killed in North Carolina alone.

This image, courtesy of NOAA, outlines the track of Hurricane Fran from 1996.

"Storm surge on the North Carolina coast destroyed or seriously damaged numerous beachfront houses," according to a summary by the National Hurricane Center.

The hurricane also caused widespread wind damage to trees and roofs and downed power lines. Additional damage resulted from Fran's extensive flooding.

While the entire United States has endured direct hits by major hurricanes since that time, six years have passed since Hurricane Wilma marked the last such occurrence.

Wilma slammed into South Florida, from the Gulf of Mexico, with maximum-sustained winds of roughly 120 mph (Category 3 strength) during the early morning hours of Oct. 24, 2005.

Wilma became the third costliest hurricane in U.S. history after it left a trail of destruction during the 4.5 hours the hurricane took to cross Florida's southern peninsula.

Another summary by the National Hurricane Center states that "Wilma caused the largest disruption to electrical service ever experienced in Florida." Five people in Florida also lost their lives.

Wilma was preceded by three other devastating and deadly landfalling major hurricanes in 2005--Hurricanes Rita, Katrina and Dennis.

All four of the above 2005 hurricanes emerged from the Gulf of Mexico. Jeanne from late September 2004 is the last major hurricane to strike the United States from the Atlantic Ocean.

The southeastern Florida coast was Jeanne's landfall site.

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