Hurricane Audrey: Weather experts reflect on June’s most powerful hurricane
By Ashley Williams, AccuWeather staff writer
Hurricane Audrey’s latest movements were fresh on the minds of families in Cameron, Louisiana, before bedtime on June 26, 1957.
Broadcasters announced that the storm, which had strengthened into a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico the day before, would make landfall over the Texas and Louisiana border late the next day.
“A lot of people thought it was too early to have a major hurricane, so I think forecasters might not have taken it seriously,” said Bill Murray, president and weather historian for The Weather Factory. “Of course, we didn’t have the tools [back then], either."
In a time before satellites, meteorologists relied on aircraft reconnaissance, ship reports and minimal radar to monitor the storm’s whereabouts.
The United States Weather Bureau’s 10 p.m. report placed Audrey at about 235 miles south of Lake Charles, a Louisiana town 52 miles inland.
The advisory warned that those living in low exposed areas should move to higher ground as the storm crept northward toward the coast at 10 mph.
Assuming that they had ample time to escape Audrey’s impact, Cameron residents had packed their vehicles in preparation for an early morning evacuation.
In its final six hours before landfall, a strong upper-level trough helped the intensifying hurricane rapidly accelerate as it barreled toward the southern U.S. A trough is an elongated area of relatively low atmospheric pressure, according to the National Weather Service (NWS).
“It caught the Weather Bureau by surprise, to some degree,” said Murray.
“[Audrey] was catastrophic because it hit first thing, during pre-dawn hours,” said Bill Kirk, CEO of Weather Trends International. “Nobody expected it that soon.”
Weather Bureau forecasters in Lake Charles released a 1 a.m. update on June 27, stating that Audrey’s speed had ramped to up to 20 mph with 150-mph winds.
Where are Atlantic tropical storms most likely to form in June?
10 catastrophic Atlantic hurricane names you’ll never see again
What is the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale?
How do hurricanes get their names?
By that time, however, broadcasters had gone off the air and residents of Vermilion, Iberia and Cameron parishes were fast asleep.
Audrey pounded the southern U.S. coast and destroyed coastal communities with intense winds and flooding.
“People woke up around 4 or 5 o’clock in the morning with 6 feet of water coming into their houses,” said Murray.
About 1,000 people made it safely into Cameron’s three-story courthouse, said Murray, in which the first two floors were inundated.
However, those unable to escape the powerful hurricane drowned in Gulf waters pushed inland by an unexpected storm surge of at least 12 feet.
In 2016, as part of the ongoing Atlantic Hurricane Database Re-analysis Project, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) reassessed and downgraded Audrey from a Category 4 to a 3 on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale.
The NHC determined that upon landfall, Audrey’s maximum sustained surface winds were 125 mph.
Audrey, the strongest hurricane ever recorded in the month of June, killed at least 500 people and caused an estimated $150 million in damage in the U.S.
Many victims, nine of whom died in southeastern Texas, were never found.
Some survivors, including Whitney Bartie, sued the Weather Bureau for failing to provide enough warning.
Bartie lost his wife and five children when Aubrey battered Cameron Parish with severe storm surge. The Weather Bureau was ultimately found to be not negligent.
According to the NWS, no reliable wind or pressure measurements are available from Audrey’s center at landfall.
Meteorological developments, including advancements in computer modeling, have vastly improved in the more than half a century since Audrey’s devastation.
“They didn’t have the advantages that we have today of non-stop social media, non-stop coverage of satellite and radar every minute or two,” said Kirk.
“Doppler radars can go out 250 miles, so we’re not going to be surprised. In 1957, they didn’t have radar, really, and they couldn’t see [Audrey] speeding up,” he said.
Comments that don't add to the conversation may be automatically or manually removed by Facebook or AccuWeather. Profanity, personal attacks, and spam will not be tolerated.
More Weather News
Weather News - January 19, 2019, 9:36:39 PM EST
Damage has been reported after a strong magnitude 6.7 earthquake struck near Coquimbo in central Chile, prompting a tsunami warning that was canceled a short time later, officials say.
Weather News - January 19, 2019, 8:41:17 PM EST
Severe thunderstorms rumbled across the Deep South on Saturday afternoon, with one storm producing a potential tornado that caused extensive damage in the town of Wetumpka, Alabama.
Midwestern US: Wind-swept snow, treacherous travel to focus from Ohio to Kentucky into Saturday night
Weather News - January 20, 2019, 2:49:17 AM EST
Despite rain starting the weekend across the Ohio Valley, plummeting temperatures will return snow, treacherous travel and frigid conditions through Saturday night.
Weather News - January 20, 2019, 2:40:05 AM EST
A storm with feet of snow, blizzard conditions, a significant build-up of ice, tree-breaking winds and plunging temperatures threatens to close roads, cause flight cancellations and disrupt daily activities over a large part of the northeastern United States this weekend.
Weather News - January 19, 2019, 4:07:20 PM EST
Superfan Chris Stone has plenty of advice for how to prepare for a freezing cold game.
Brutal cold to endanger those left stranded, without power in wake of immobilizing northeastern US winter storm
Weather News - January 19, 2019, 8:41:29 PM EST
A polar plunge of brutal cold is following this weekend’s blockbuster winter storm, which can threaten lives and complicate travel and cleanup efforts.
Weather News - January 19, 2019, 4:05:15 PM EST
While a winter storm churns to their north, residents of the southern United States are facing a severe weather danger on Saturday.
Weather News - January 20, 2019, 2:54:00 AM EST
The snowstorm that caused nearly a thousand flights to be canceled at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport is expected to bring difficult and dangerous travel to a large swath of the Northeast through at least Sunday.