Weather

Of Agnes, Gloria, and Hugo

With few exceptions, the 1970s and 1980s did not deliver mega-tropical storm action. But were there exceptions! June 1972 brought Hurricane Agnes to the mid-Atlantic region. It was only a Category 1 storm, but it was packed with moisture and energy. It moved inland on June 21 and stalled across interior Pennsylvania and New York. The rains came and stayed for four days. All rivers flooded, including the Susquehanna. The floods were monumental. Property damage reached more than $3 billion. More than 300,000 people were left homeless; 5,800 businesses were wiped out. The floodwaters took 118 lives. The storm's estimated 28.1 trillion gallons of water was enough to fill a 67-square-mile lake with 2,000 feet of water.

Later, the 1980s delivered Hurricane Gloria to New England. It caused the single greatest power outage in Connecticut history when it moved onshore in September 1985, but overall the storm's impact was minor compared to others. It could be called the "lunch hour" storm because it came during the early afternoon—if you took a long lunch, you'd have missed the whole storm.

One of the biggest headline-grabbers of the 1970s and 1980s was Hurricane Hugo. Or was it "Huge-O"? Hugo really was enormous. Winds reached over 150 mph, and hurricane-force winds extended as far as 140 miles from the center. Tropical storm winds of 50 to 60 mph reached as far as 250 miles from the center. The storm developed off the African coast during September 1989. It became a super-storm as it slammed into Puerto Rico. The devastation in Puerto Rico led to riots and looting, which contributed to even more casualties.

After causing historic damage in Puerto Rico, the storm headed for South Carolina. Forecasters were hoping for and predicting a turn to the north, away from the coast, but that wasn't about to happen. On September 21, the storm slammed into South Carolina.

The center moved onshore late that evening about 25 miles north of Charleston. Around Charleston, telephone service went dead just after 11 P.M. Tornadoes touched down as the storm pushed inland. The eye passed over the National Weather Service building at Charleston Air Force Base; immediately afterwards, its roof blew off. Just before midnight, winds in downtown Charleston were clocked at 100 mph with gusts to 119 mph. Windows were popping at hotels and century-old trees were uprooted. Charleston was in ruins. Many people were without homes, food, or electricity for weeks. Hugo's storm tides in South Carolina came to 20 feet. The storm took 60 lives and caused $7 billion in damage—$5 billion of damage occurred in South Carolina alone. Hugo was the most powerful hurricane to hit South Carolina since the mid-1950s.

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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Weather © 2002 by Mel Goldstein, Ph.D.. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.