June 22, 1972: The AccuWeather.com archives report that almost 50 years ago in 1972 of one of the first billion-dollar hurricanes in the history of the United States struck. A mass of clouds over the Yucatan grew more organized on June 14, 1972. What would soon become a hurricane of minimal strength in terms of wind and storm surge would soon lead to, according to President Nixon, "The greatest natural disaster in the history of the United States." Nixon made the statement after viewing the damage in Agnes' wake firsthand. Agnes occurred only a few years after billion-dollar hurricanes Betsy in 1965 and Camille in 1969. Damage from Agnes would not be exceeded by a hurricane in the U.S. until 20 years later. After making landfall on the Florida Panhandle on June 19 as a minimal hurricane, Agnes weakened to a tropical depression over the southeastern U.S. However, the storm was able to survive and strengthen to a tropical storm once again by moving off the mid-Atlantic coast. A non-tropical weather system soon captured Agnes and caused the storm to loop northwestward over Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York. The topography, tropical moisture and energy resulted in up to 19 inches of rain and massive flooding spanning centered on June 22 1973, following an already wet spring for the region. The Susquehanna River, which feeds into the Chesapeake Bay, bore the brunt of Agnes' rainfall. The amount of fresh water flowing into the bay during a several-day period, on the order of trillions of gallons, negatively affected local marine life and the seafood industry for several years. Record flooding swept much of the east. Total damage from Agnes was over $3.0 billion in the U.S. Adjusted to today's dollars, this would be well over $20 billion. Agnes also caused extensive damage to railroad lines in the region, already taxed by bankruptcy. While the Agnes disaster has been eclipsed by more powerful and costlier storms during recent decades, including hurricanes Andrew and Katrina, it still ranks in the top 10 costliest hurricanes in the U.S., adjusted to today's dollars. The name Agnes has been retired from the list of Atlantic hurricanes, by the World Meteorological Organization.
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