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Document Type

Book Chapter


Virginia Institute of Marine Science

Publication Date



K.G. Sellner

Book Title

Hurricane Isabel in Perspective : Proceedings of a conference


Chesapeake Research Consortium, Inc.


Edgewater, Maryland


In June 1972, the remnants of Hurricane Agnes brought destructive floods to the watershed of the Chesapeake Bay basin. Unlike Hurricane Isabel, Agnes did not strike Chesapeake Bay directly, but deposited a record amount of rainfall on the watershed. The evening that the Agnes rainfall began in earnest coincided with a meeting of the Citizens Program for the Chesapeake Bay. The directors of the three largest Chesapeake Bay research institutions, Drs. Donald W. Pritchard, L. Eugene Cronin, and William J. Hargis Jr., were in attendance at this meeting. The potential magnitude of the Agnes rainfall was readily apparent at the meeting as one of the planned evening events had to be moved due to a foot of water in the meeting room. The following morning at breakfast, the three directors committed their institutions to “Operation Agnes,” extensive studies of the biological, chemical, and physical impacts of this event. Hargis, Cronin, and Pritchard were good friends and strong competitors of long standing. Since 1949, Pritchard had been the first full-time director of the Chesapeake Bay Institute (CBI); Cronin had headed the Chesapeake Biological Laboratory (CBL) since 1951; and Hargis had been director of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) (and its predecessor the Virginia Fisheries Laboratory-VFL) since 1959. In 1964, the three directors had set up an informal Chesapeake Bay Research Council (CBRC) to coordinate some of their Chesapeake Bay research activities. They used the CBRC mechanism to coordinate “Operation Agnes,” a commitment that was made without any assurance of financial support for these studies. The gamble taken by the three laboratory directors was successful, eventually resulting in a peer-reviewed book published by The Johns Hopkins University Press entitled The Effects of Tropical Storm Agnes on the Chesapeake Bay Estuarine System. Operation Agnes was the last project undertaken by the CBRC. Reorganization by two of the parent institutions and incorporation of the Chesapeake Research Consortium (CRC) resulted in a realignment of Chesapeake Bay scientific leadership and the leadership of Operation Agnes moved from CBRC to CRC. The scientific community’s response to Tropical Storm Agnes—an unprecedented event— was in itself unprecedented. A number of coincidences came into play: recent (1969) experience with flooding from Hurricane Camille; fortuitous attendance of the leaders of the three largest Chesapeake Bay research institutions at a meeting directly affected by Agnes; and the prior mobilization of the three institutions to conduct extensive hydrographic studies throughout Chesapeake Bay. The most important factor, however, was the strong commitment of three laboratory directors to the understanding of the Chesapeake Bay system.


Rainfall, Historic Storms

An Unprecedented Scientific Community Response to an Unprecedented Event: Tropical Storm Agnes and the Chesapeake Bay