Tropical cyclone Fran was the fifth cyclone, and the third within four weeks, to affect Vanuatu during 1991-92. Fran was also the second cyclone to cross the Queensland coast.
Fran originated from a shallow low that was first identified on 4 March embedded in the mon- soon trough north-northwest of Western Samoa. Organisation of the cloud signature was quite slow at first, but by 1800 UTC 5 March there were indications that sustained winds near the centre had reached gale force and the system was named. Fran was moving in a general west-southwest direction at this stage, a track that the cyclone maintained with remarkable persistence until shortly before reaching the Queensland coast over a week later.
Tropical cyclone Fran passed between Wallis and Futuna Islands shortly after achieving cyclone intensity. Considerable rainfall was recorded on the islands, with Wallis Island reporting over 540 mm in 12 hours alone. Fran was intensifying rapidly at this stage and by 0000 7 March, shortly after crossing the date-line, hurricane-force winds had developed. During the next 24 hours, whilst steadily deepening, the cyclone tracked across waters to the north of Fiji and towards the central islands of Vanuatu. Maximum intensity was achieved just before reaching the island chain.
Fran passed between Efate and its southern neighbour Erromango between 0000 and 1200 UTC 9 March, with a highest gust of 40 m/s recorded at Bauerfield on Efate. In the higher and more exposed parts of the capital, Vila, gusts of up to 50 m/s were estimated to have occurred. The passage of Fran through Vanuatu caused it to weaken slightly, but upon reentering open water to the west, the cyclone slowly reintensified. Fran passed north of New Caledonia around 0000 UTC 10 March before assuming a more westward track which kept the centre north of the 20th parallel of latitude for the next two and a half days.
By 1200 UTC 12 March, Fran had reached its secondary maximum intensity estimated mean winds of 40 m/s whilst located approximately 650 km from the Queensland coast. The cyclone had slowed by this stage and it subsequently assumed a somewhat erratic southwest track towards the coast. Over the next three days Fran weakened, with satellite imagery indicating a steady decrease in the degree of organisation. The cyclone finally crossed the Queensland coast near theTown of Seventeen Seventy at 1700 UTC 15 March, with an eye diameter ofapproximately 80 km and maximum sustained winds estimated at 28 m/s. Fran subsequently moved inland and weakened to a tropical depression before recurving to the southeast and moving back over water. The ex-cyclone depression tracked over Norfolk Island before ultimately being captured by a westerly trough north of New Zealand.
The effects of tropical cyclone Fran were felt over a large area of the southwest Pacific. At Wallis and Futuna Islands, damage to trees, telephone and power lines was experienced, several boats were sunk and some buildings lost roofs. The heaviest impacts were felt in Vanuatu; in Erromango, houses were destroyed, considerable crop damage occurred and a storm surge was reported at Erromango wharf. In Efate, over 130 houses lost roofs. Finally, in southeast Queensland, winds and flooding caused minor property damage and heavy crop losses along the coast, particularly in the Bundaberg district. Insurance losses were estimated to be $A2.5 million.