Saturday, June 23, 2012

Agnes At 40: The Flooding

Cover of Pottstown Mercury from Monday 6/18
Flooding from Agnes was the real headline that folks took away from the storm.  Torrential rains from a slow-moving, captured tropical entity lead to swollen rivers and streams throughout New York and Pennsylvania, with "floods of record" recorded along the Schuylkill Basin and, until last year for some locations, also the Susquehanna Basin.  Flooding crippled many river towns, leading to the deaths of fifty and over two billion dollars in total damage.

Agnes' flooding crested along the Schuylkill between the 23rd and 24th, with the Susquehanna getting its impacts a day later respectively from north to south.  In Pottstown, the record crest from Agnes (29.97') was more than eleven feet higher than the crest from Tropical Storm Lee's remnants and almost nine feet higher than the prior record crest in 1902.  Reading's crest of 31.35' bested the old record by almost eleven feet and is still eight feet higher than a flood stage that was accomplished in June 2006.

It also resulted in the fourth highest crest of the Schuylkill at Philadelphia -- 14.65' -- the highest flood stage recorded along the river since 1933.

Besides the rising rivers, water supplies were tainted from flooding and runoff.  Some of the pictures below tell the tale of impact along the Schuylkill Valley.

In Spring City, the valley bottom where ACME (now Spring-Ford Diner) and Rite Aid reside in a strip mall along Bridge Street before it crosses into Royersford was submerged by feet of water from the swollen Schuylkill River, cutting off access between the two boroughs for several days.

Flooding was not only bad along the Schuylkill River but also farther north and west -- the Susquehanna had record flooding in Wilkes-Barre, which shot over the levee system that was built in the 1930's, resulting in flooding in much of the Wyoming Valley.  Wilkes-Barre and Harrisburg both dealt with extensive flooding from the storm.

All told, 68,000 homes in the state were destroyed...and then-Governor Milton Shapp was also forced to flee the flood waters from Agnes, which is termed "Hurricane Agony" because of the misery it inflicted on the state.  Flood waters impacted the western half of the state as well, with Pittsburgh's recorded flood stage of 35.82' the highest since 1936 and third highest on record.

Agnes was agony for many Pennsylvanians...and a storm that even today still brings a haunting reminder to many in the Keystone State.