An American Tragedy: 50th Anniversary of Hurricane Audrey

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 11:39 AM GMT on June 26, 2007

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Fifty years ago this evening--on the night of June 26, 1957--residents of Cameron, Louisiana slept uneasily. Cameron, population 3,000, sat on the coast just above sea level, about 30 miles east of Texas. Hurricane Audrey roared across the dark waters of the Gulf of Mexico towards Cameron that night, lashing the coast with high winds and heavy rain. Many residents had heeded calls to evacuate from Audrey's 100 mph winds and predicted 5-9 foot storm surge that afternoon. But the old timers, familiar with how the surrounding dunes had protected Cameron in the past, stayed put. It was, after all, June, and severe hurricanes in June were almost unheard of. Besides, the storm was not expected to hit until the following afternoon, so there was still time to evacuate in the morning if things looked bad. The remarkable mass exodus of thousands of crawfish from the marshes surrounding Cameron that night apparently did not concern the old timers, who figured they had more sense than crawdads. But the crawdads could apparently sense what the old timers could not--sea surface temperatures were a full 2-3 degrees Fahrenheit above average in the Gulf of Mexico, with a large upper level anticyclone bringing near-zero wind shear over Audrey. This perfect recipe for rapid intensification meant that Audrey was not going to be a mere Category 2 hurricane at landfall. An additional ingredient unfavorable for intensification--the approach of a trough of low pressure with increased wind shear--would not occur in time to weaken the storm. However, the approaching trough did bring an increase in steering current winds at mid- and high levels of the atmosphere, which doubled the forward speed of Audrey overnight.


Figure 1. Radar image of Hurricane Audrey on June 27, 1957, a few hours before landfall. Image credit: US Air Force/NOAA.

Not everyone got the warning a hurricane was coming, since Cameron was isolated and didn't get good radio reception. Television sets were still too new to be commonplace. Those Cameron residents who were able to get the warnings saw this before they went to bed June 26:

NEW ORLEANS WEATHER BUREAU
HURRICANE WARNING AND ADVISORY NUMBER 7 AUDREY
10 PM CST JUNE 26 1957

CHANGE TO HURRICANE WARNINGS 10 PM CST O UPPER TEXAS COAST AS FAR SOUTH AS HIGH ISLAND. LOWER STORM WARNINGS EAST OF LOUISIANA TO PENSACOLA>

AT 10 PM CST...0400Z...HURRICANE AUDREY WAS CENTERED ABOUT 235 MILES SOUTH OF LAKE CHARLES LOUISIANA NEAR LATITUDE 27.0 LONGITUDE 93.5 MOVING NORTHWARD ABOUT 10 MPH. THIS MOVEMENT IS EXPECTED TO CONTINUE AND THE AREA FROM HIGH ISLAND TO MORGAN CITY IS EXPECTED TO BEAR THE BRUNT OF THIS HURRICANE THURSDAY.

HIGHEST WINDS ARE ESTIMATED 100 MPH NEAR CENTER AND GALES EXTEND OUT 150 TO 200 MILES TO EAST AND NORTH OF CENTER AND 50 MILES TO THE SOUTHWEST.

TIDES ARE EXPECTED TO REACH 5 TO 9 FEET FROM HIGH ISLAND TEXAS TO MORGAN CITY LOUISIANA AND 3 TO 6 FEET ELSEWHERE FROM FREEPORT TEXAS TO BILOXI MISSISSIPPI BY LATE THURSDAY. ALL PERSONS IN LOW EXPOSED PLACES SHOULD MOVE TO HIGHER GROUND. WINDS ARE INCREASING ALONG THE UPPER TEXAS AND LOUISIANA COASTS AND WILL REACH GALE FORCE TONIGHT AND EARLY THURSDAY.

HURRICANE WARNINGS ARE DISPLAYED ALONG THE ENTIRE LOUISIANA COAST AND ON THE UPPER TEXAS COAST AS FAR SOUTH AS HIGH ISLAND AND STORM WARNINGS AT GALVESTON. THE THREAT OF HURRICANE FORCE WINDS OVER SOUTHEAST LOUISIANA HAS LESSENED CONSIDERABLY.

NEXT ADVISORY AT 4 AM CST BULLETIN AT 1 AM CST.

CONNER WEATHER BUREAU NEW ORLEANS

Overnight, Audrey intensified rapidly, and more than doubled her forward speed from the 7 mph speed observed that afternoon. When residents of Cameron awoke on June 27, the escape routes had already been flooded by the storm surge. Audrey now packed top winds of 145-150 mph--an extremely dangerous Category 4 hurricane, the most powerful June hurricane on record. A massive storm surge of 12 feet swept through the bayous the morning of June 27, pushing inland over 25 miles. The final death toll will never be known, but it is thought 550 people--including over 100 children--perished in Audrey. It was America's deadliest hurricane disaster between the time of the New England Hurricane of 1938 (682 killed) and Hurricane Katrina of 2005 (1833 killed).

Comparison of Audrey and Rita
Why was Audrey so much deadlier than Hurricane Rita of 2005? Rita hit the same region of coast with weaker winds (Category 3, 115 mph), but a storm surge even higher (15 feet). Rita destroyed virtually 100% of Cameron, whereas Audrey destroyed 75% of the town. Nearly two years later, Cameron is mostly just concrete slabs and trailers, thanks to Rita. However, Rita caused only one direct death in Southwest Louisiana--a drowning in Lake Charles. The answer is preparedness. Rita was a massive Category 5 hurricane several days before landfall, giving people plenty of time to receive the warnings and evacuate. Warning systems are much better now than in 1957, and Cameron was deserted when Rita hit. But Audrey did something hurricane forecasters still fear could cause a high death toll in the future, despite our better warning systems--rapid intensification with a sudden forward speed increase overnight, bringing a much stronger hurricane to the coast far earlier than expected. If this nightmare scenario happens to one of our major cities in the future, another Audrey-like death toll could easily result.


Figure 2. Comparison of wind gusts from Audrey (1957) and Hurricane Rita (2005), which both hit the same region of coast. Image credit: NOAA.

Other Audrey links
The National Weather Service Lake Charles Office's 50th anniversary of Hurricane Audrey web page. They've got a nice SLOSH model animation of the storm surge, plus radar images and meteorological data.

The NOAA history web site has the story, "My Battle with Audrey", a graphic first-hand description of an Audrey survivor.

Nola Mae Ross has written a book about Hurricane Audrey. Here's the web site to buy the book from.

Wikipedia.

Remembering Audrey by Ron Thibodeaux, writer for the Times-Picayune newspaper.

Louisiana101.com has photos of the memorial at the mass grave where hundreds of Audrey's victims are buried. I found this memorable poem by student Lucas Lasha on the website:

In '57 she began with a roar
No one knew she was comin' ashore
Most people were asleep in bed
Not knowing they should have fled.

After the fury of the storm's huge eye
Families cried for members who did die
Lady Audrey would long be remembered
As the fateful day that Cameron surrendered

Jeff Masters

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537. dnalia
12:37 PM GMT on June 27, 2007
Took this when I got to work this morning. Yay for rainy weather in Miami.

rainbow
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536. homegirl
12:27 PM GMT on June 27, 2007
Hot Dog!!!! Good Morning all!! I'm waiting for the rain in Lehigh Acres. Bring it.
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534. PensacolaDoug
12:13 PM GMT on June 27, 2007
Good morning weather watchers, spotters, warners, wishcastors and lurkers:)

You left out "weenies".
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533. ricderr
12:16 PM GMT on June 27, 2007
hey rand........what's the QVC precip forecast got on tap today?...LOL...yesterdays was a bust with the highest totals in southern fl of 1.68..less in outliers....well..up here..last night...we got 1.45.....doom and gloom is dead
Member Since: June 27, 2006 Posts: 685 Comments: 23565
532. MahFL
8:08 AM EDT on June 27, 2007
Heavy rain is forcast here near JAX for the next 3 days.
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531. nash28
12:04 PM GMT on June 27, 2007
Good morning all.
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529. weathermanwannabe
7:51 AM EDT on June 27, 2007
Good Morning All....JP was correct last evening; I thought that the "wave" moving into Florida had gone "poof" but he assured me that it was merely an overnight lull....Looks like South Florida will get some rain....But can the system hold together and get into the Gulf?.....We shall wait and see....(we need more rain in the Big Bend region of the State)
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528. Gatorxgrrrl
11:43 AM GMT on June 27, 2007
Good morning weather watchers, spotters, warners, wishcastors and lurkers:)
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527. IKE
6:41 AM CDT on June 27, 2007
Florida needs the rain.
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525. IKE
6:33 AM CDT on June 27, 2007
There's absolutely nothing going on in the tropical Atlantic.....

*yawn*

Day 27....156 to go and it's over.
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524. StoryOfTheCane
11:30 AM GMT on June 27, 2007
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523. pottery2
6:53 AM AST on June 27, 2007
Good Morning. A question for Dr. Masters.
Could you give me info on where I can find what the amount of Sahara Dust in the air is ??
In parts per ?? or any other quantitative amounts ?
The SAL Analysis images show " lighter _ heavier " amounts. But I cant firure out what the amounts realy are
With thanks


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522. C2News
6:53 AM EDT on June 27, 2007
Hello? I am bored.
Member Since: July 17, 2006 Posts: 73 Comments: 622
521. stoormfury
10:13 AM GMT on June 27, 2007
sorry about the caps. i am also off to work we will see what fans out later. have a good day
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519. stoormfury
10:07 AM GMT on June 27, 2007
THIS IS THE SAME AREA WHERE EMILY WAS SPAWNED ON THE 11/07/05.
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518. HurricaneMyles
9:53 AM GMT on June 27, 2007
stoormfury...Also hindering the wave is that it's at around 7N and embedded in the ITCZ.
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517. stoormfury
9:41 AM GMT on June 27, 2007
good morning
last evening i made mention of this CATL. it appears more organised now than then. i also said that it's movement weat had a northerky component to it. right how it is under 5-10 knots of wind shear. the only hindrance to it;a development is the increase in wind shear near the islands. if the shear were to felax somewhat the we could see Chabtal on the way
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516. StoryOfTheCane
8:13 AM GMT on June 27, 2007
i think its still too far south, its lookin a little better than it really is because its intermingled in the ITCZ. definitely bears watching though.

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515. stormybil
8:11 AM GMT on June 27, 2007
4.30 am the new wave in the centreal atlantinc around 10 n 40 w is looking more organized story can this be somthing to watch today thanks
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514. StoryOfTheCane
8:09 AM GMT on June 27, 2007
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513. stormybil
6:42 AM GMT on June 27, 2007
morning anyone checking out the new wave in the central atl. about 10 north ? i know there is some dry air ahead of it but the dry air seems to be disapating . this one might have a chance
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512. KRL
6:42 AM GMT on June 27, 2007
Interesting read on how the interior temperatures of earth keep the continents above sea level.

Earth's Interior Temperature Article

Temp
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511. Jedkins
5:15 AM GMT on June 27, 2007
Florida is home to these bad boys, stinkin apes they are, king of this subtropical jungle. Any farmer here in Florida older then 20 will tell you they exsist!

I heard a skunk apish soumding noise going camping to my south in Ft. Myers, was a warm foggy summer morning. Couldn't see anything. Just heard the most disturbing thing in my life. And I would in no way have the courage to go out of my tent through the thick fog to find what it really was. I may workout and be strong. But without a rifle I felt pretty vonerable that late night lol!


Its all possible that noise I heard was a wild hog that had issues. But I don't think wild hogs sound like gorrilas, and it lasted long enough to decern that it sounded just like a gorilla lol.


Of course I'm jokin, but many people in Florida claim to have seen and smelled it, many clain to even get a clear veiw of it up close.


And the camping story with the gorilla noise was true, was a freaky experience. And I'm no city slicker who freaks from sounds at camps. I'm an outdoorsman, been on long hikes in the NC mountains way out in the deep woud. I'm very used to camping and wild animals at night. But that was something like no other.


They may just exsist. Its for each man decide whether he wants to believe in the saaquatch.

I personally won't untill I see him myself, the gorilla noise. Ya disturbing, but not enough evidence!

LOL ok I'm off to bed, twas a crazy post I have written!
509. moonlightcowboy
3:30 AM GMT on June 27, 2007
eyestoplogo1left.jpg


Expedition to look for Bigfoot evidence

MANISTIQUE, Mich. - Researchers will visit the Upper Peninsula next month to search for evidence of the hairy manlike creature known as "Bigfoot" or "Sasquatch."

The expedition will center in eastern Marquette County, following the most recent Bigfoot eyewitness account, said Matthew Moneymaker of the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization.

"We'll be looking for evidence supporting a presence. ... We hope to meet local people who might have seen a Sasquatch or heard of someone else who had an encounter," Moneymaker told the Daily Press of Escanaba.

Most experts consider the Bigfoot legend to be a combination of folklore and hoaxes, but there are a number of authors and researchers who think the stories could be true.

Among all U.P. counties, Marquette County has logged the most reported Bigfoot sightings with four, Moneymaker said. Bigfoot encounters also have been reported in Ontonagon, Baraga, Dickinson, Luce and Schoolcraft counties.

In all but three of 30 expeditions in the United States and Canada, BFRO investigators have either glimpsed Bigfoot or gotten close enough to hear the creature, Moneymaker said.

Dr. Grover Krantz, a scientist specializing in cryptozoology, believes Bigfoot is a "gigantopithecus," a branch of primitive man believed to have existed 3 million years ago.

But mainstream scientists tend to dismiss the study as pseudoscience because of unreliable eyewitness accounts and a lack of solid physical evidence.

...could lend validity to the "smell factor"??? lol, have a nice night all!!!
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508. kmanislander
3:27 AM GMT on June 27, 2007
anyway nite all
tomorrow is another day
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506. kmanislander
3:20 AM GMT on June 27, 2007
scwindsaloft

You are generally correct. Most coastal areas are 4 to 8 ft above sea level and the highest point ( my parent's home ) is 60 ft up. Some inland areas are about 15 to 30 ft above MSL but with a Cat 3 or higher system passing over or within 10 to 20 miles of the us storm surge is the big threat. Wind is not a problem as virtually all homes are reinforced concrete and steel. Ivan destroyed $64 million of motor vehicles due to salt water surge !
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505. moonlightcowboy
3:22 AM GMT on June 27, 2007
.
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504. scwindsaloft
3:17 AM GMT on June 27, 2007
kman

I've been to your island, and as I recall, there is virtually no high ground.
Member Since: May 6, 2007 Posts: 1 Comments: 401
503. kmanislander
3:16 AM GMT on June 27, 2007
Well jp I am out of here for tonight.
Been great chatting with you.
C U tomorrow
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502. kmanislander
3:14 AM GMT on June 27, 2007
A new blob ??

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501. weathermanwannabe
11:11 PM EDT on June 26, 2007
Thanks JP; I just checked the latest Miami NWS forecast and you are correct. I was looking at the rainbow loops (which just show the convection die down) but the low shows up on the WV loop.....I'll see everyone tommorow and Good Night..
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499. kmanislander
3:09 AM GMT on June 27, 2007
jph

Unfortunately, as the old saying goes, experience is what you get when you get what you don't want !
Like many I used to think of storms as a time for a party. Not any more, but it took a catastrophe to come to that realisation.
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496. kmanislander
3:07 AM GMT on June 27, 2007
jph

You could be right with that but we need to see some of the other models come on board with this before putting too much credence in that run
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495. weathermanwannabe
10:59 PM EDT on June 26, 2007
Hey...Just dropping by since earlier today..Wow..The "waves" off PR and the Bahamas which were supposed to bring all the rain the South Florida are gone?
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493. kmanislander
2:54 AM GMT on June 27, 2007
We got caught by surprise with Ivan because just about everyone expected it to go N before it reached us. One valuable lesson we learned was "expect the worse and prepare for the worse".
Too many here took the forecasts of a N movement across Jamaica as being a done deal. When we saw the Westward jog it was 8 pm on Saturday night and too late to do anything in the way of real preparation. Had Ivan struck at night at high tide ( instead of 10 am Sunday at low tide ) the casualties could have been significant.As it was the coastal areas for about a mile inland at places were under 6 to 8 feet of water. I was one of those caught by surprise with storm surge but I won't let that happen again. I keep a case of silicone in my garage for every crack around a window or door !. Better to spend a week removing caulk than 6 months rebuilding a home !
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491. kmanislander
2:50 AM GMT on June 27, 2007
Water temps in the Caribbean, Gomex and E of the Lesser Antilles near 53 W will all support tropical storm activity. It is the shear this time of yr that tends to put the kabosh on development. In fact the SW Caribbean has water temps all yr that will support TS development
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488. sporteguy03
2:46 AM GMT on June 27, 2007
Thanks Dr.Masters for the answer in your blog:
Not everyone got the warning a hurricane was coming, since Cameron was isolated and didn't get good radio reception. Television sets were still too new to be commonplace. Those Cameron residents who were able to get the warnings saw this before they went to bed June 26:
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487. sporteguy03
2:44 AM GMT on June 27, 2007
Kman,
very true, both basins are quiet yes typical of June, but the water is warm and ripe and anything that does form will have plenty of warm water to use.
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Dr. Masters co-founded wunderground in 1995. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990. Co-blogging with him: Bob Henson, @bhensonweather

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