On this date in 1972, Hurricane Agnes moved ashore in the Florida panhandle as a weak Category 1 storm. The highest wind reported on the Gulf Coast was a gust to just 56 mph at Apalachicola, Florida. The $10 million in damage in the Florida Panhandle was just a drop in the bucket. Hurricane Agnes would be downgraded to a tropical depression as it moved northward through Georgia and the Carolinas after landfall.
Agnes’ main damage would come two days later as the remnants of the storm brought tremendous rains and flooding to parts of the Northeast. On the 21st, the storm system emerged over the warm waters of the Atlantic and gained strength.
The storm would make landfall again in southeastern New York on the 22nd and then stall over Pennsylvania on the 23rd. The first day of summer was a wet one in eastern Pennsylvania as rains overspread the area ahead of the northward moving remnants of Hurricane Agnes. The wet storm system was expected to move out into the Atlantic Ocean, but it made an unexpected turn the next day and dumped unprecedented amounts of rain over the Susquehanna Valley.
Agnes’ torrential rains deluged parts of Pennsylvania. The state capital of Harrisburg was inundated and the governor’s mansion flooded. Nineteen inches of rain deluged Wilkes-Baare, PA, forcing the Susquehanna River over its 38 foot high dikes.
By late evening on the 22nd, Civil Defense officials in Wilkes-Baare, PA watched the rapidly rising floodwaters of the Susquehanna River. Evacuation warnings were not sounded during the night because emergency officials thought that a nighttime evacuation would be confusing. By early morning, evacuations were ordered with the river already at 33 feet and major flooding occurring. By late morning, warnings were frantic as the area’s worst natural disaster in history was underway.
At 11:14 am, sirens sounded seven short blasts indicating that the waters were breaching the dike in Wilkes-Baare. Nearly 75,000 people would evacuate in the face of the rising waters. The raging waters would flood much of the city.
Hurricane Agnes’ five-day romp through the Atlantic seaboard made the storm the costliest natural disaster in the United States at that time. Damage was estimated at $3.5 billion and 134 deaths were reported from Florida to New York. Agnes would produce more damage than all tropical cyclones in the previous six years, including Camille.
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Category: Met 101/Weather History