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You are here: GES DISC Home Hurricanes Additional Features Science Focus HURRICANE FRANCES AUGUST 25 - SEPTEMBER 10 2004


Hurricane Frances track diagram

Figure 1.  Best Track analysis of Hurricane Frances .1


Storm Status

Wind Speed

Green=Tropical Depression

<39 mph

Yellow=Tropical Storm

39-73 mph

Light Red=Category 1-2 Hurricane

74-110 mph

Dark Red=Category 3-5 Hurricane



 Hurricane Frances was the sixth named storm of the 2004 Atlantic Hurricane Season, and the seasons fourth Hurricane.  Maximum sustained winds topped out at around 125 kts (145 mph) on 31 August making him a strong Category 4 Hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale.  Frances lashed portions of the Bahamas with winds gusting over 110 mph, and then proceeded to make landfall in Florida, just a week after Major Hurricane Charley had come ashore on the other side of the state.    

Frances is responsible for seven deaths—according to the National Hurricane Center—five of which occurred in Florida, one in the Bahamas, and one in Ohio.2  As far as damage to property is concerned, Frances likely caused around $4.4 billion in damage to insured property in the United States, and another $4.4 billion to uninsured property.  With these estimates, total damage from Frances tops out at around $9 billion2.

Storm History

Hurricane Frances was a classic Cape-Verde type tropical cyclone that developed in the eastern Atlantic just west of the Cape Verde Islands off the coast of Africa. 

Late on 24 August, a vigorous tropical wave that had migrated off the African coast became Tropical Depression Four in the eastern Atlantic.  Upper level steering currents were not particularly strong, but Tropical Depression Four managed to putter along to the west at 10-20 mph for the next few days.  Originally, National Hurricane Center forecast maps revealed that TD Four would begin moving in a more northwesterly fashion during the proceeding 24 to 36 hours.  Frances did begin to turn towards the northwest, but only for a short period of time before an eastward-moving high pressure cell suppressed her track. 

At the same time, warm ocean waters and light upper level winds produced an environment in which tropical disturbances thrive.  Tropical Depression Four was no exception, and maintained its gradual intensification until becoming a hurricane on 26 August at 18 UTC (5 PM EDT).  Frances continued strengthening while edging closer to the Bahamas, and reached its peak intensity on 31 August at 18 UTC with maximum sustained surface winds estimated to have been around 125 kts (145 mph) about 300 miles east-southeast of the Bahamas.3  Steering currents weakened as Frances approached the Bahamas and the Southeastern United States as another ridge began building to her west.  Frances passed over the Bahamas as a potent Category 3 Hurricane, finally reaching Florida as a 105 mph Category 2 Hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale around 0500 UTC on 5 September.2 

Once back over open waters, thunderstorms around Frances’ center began to re-fire, but the storm failed to intensify before making its final landfall near St. Marks, Florida as a 65 mph Tropical Storm at 18 UTC on 6 September.  Frances weakened over land to a Tropical Depression the next day, and finally became extratopical over West Virginia on 9 September.  Frances did, however, remain a significant rain-producer as he scooted up the spine of Appalachian Mountains.  Isolated locations at the foot of the Mountains reported rainfall totals as high as 23 inches (23.57” in Mount Mitchell, North Carolina).

Frances also spawned over 100 tornadoes from Florida to Virginia, most of which occurred in a significant tornado outbreak that affected most of South Carolina, and portions of North Carolina and Florida on 7 September (See Storm Prediction Center’s Severe Thunderstorm Event Page). 


Data, Images and Animations

+Explore and analyze gridded data of the hurricane using the GES-DISC Interactive Online Visualization and Analysis Infrastructure (Giovanni)

+Use Mirador or WHOM to obtain data provided by the GES DISC DAAC for a hurricane event.

+View animations and images of Hurricane Frances in the 2004 Past Hurricane Archive.


Frances RGB
MODIS Aqua RGB using the MOD02HKM product. This image is of the swath data from Sept 03 at 1830 hrs. More images like this and parameters animation created from other datasets can be seen in our Archive Image Gallery for hurricane Frances .


1. Image courtesy of the NOAA coastal Services Center  Http://

2.Beven, Jack. “Tropical Cyclone Report: Hurricane Frances.” 17 December 2004. (21 July 2006).

 3. Avila, Lixion. “Hurricane Frances Advisory Number 28.” 31 August 2004. (26 July 2006).

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Last updated: May 27, 2010 04:35 PM ET