60th Anniversary of Hurricane Audrey

Radar animation of Hurricane Audrey making landfall
(US Army/NOAA)

In the morning hours of June 27, 1957, Hurricane Audrey sent a 12-foot (3.7-m) storm surge over Cameron, Louisiana, as the storm lashed the area with 125 mph (205 km/hr) winds. Many residents were caught by surprise and had not evacuated, and the storm took some 400 lives.

Audrey was an unusual June storm.  It formed in the Bay of Campeche from a tropical wave on June 24th.  Over the warm waters of the southern Gulf of Mexico, the system gained some impetus from the end of a stationary front extending into the area.  By the time a reconnaissance flight reached the area on June 25th, it had already reached hurricane strength and was named ‘Audrey.’  It began a northward movement, slowly at first.  But the hurricane intensified and began to pick up forward speed.  While aircraft reconnaissance was maintained, the Navy Hurricane Hunters did not penetrate the eye of the storm because of its intensity.  Wind speeds were estimated at 125 mph (205 km/hr) for an encounter with a tanker ship Tillamook.

The National Hurricane Research Project (NHRP) was about to begin its second year of research flights, but the main Air Force B-50 aircraft were not yet instrumented for the 1957 campaign.  Only the B-47 high altitude jet was available and made one sortie into Audrey, out of Homestead AFB on the evening of the 26th.  However, the hurricane was monitored continuously by several Army radar stations in Texas and Louisiana. Offshore, an oil rig was sunk and several tender ships damaged.

As the hurricane approached the northern Gulf coast, the Weather Bureau issued hurricane warnings for the Louisiana coast late on June 26th.  However, they estimated the time of landfall as the following afternoon.  This led some residents to wait until the following morning to begin evacuation plans.  The storm accelerated during the night and came ashore at 9:30 AM local time.  By then, it was too late for anyone to leave vulnerable coastal areas.

Rainfall from Hurricane Audrey 1957

As Audrey moved inland, it weakened to a depression.  But interaction with a cold front over the Midwest revived the storm, causing heavy rainfall over the Ohio River Valley.  The remnants of Audrey finally dissipated over Canada, causing damage in Ontario and and even 15 deaths in Quebec.  Audrey killed a total of some 417 people and caused US$147 million in damages along its track.  It was the deadliest U.S. Hurricane between the 1900 Galveston hurricane and Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Within days of Audrey’s landfall, NHRP director Bob Simpson organized several researchers to converge on Cameron and begin carefully measuring and surveying the damage, before clean-up crews could destroy valuable clues.  This work helped map valuable high water marks that later informed nascent efforts to make computer forecasts of storm surge.

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