The latest RECON reports confirm RITA is now a CATASTROPHIC CATEGORY 5 Hurricane. Center Pressure is down to 920mb, and MAX Sustained winds of 153KTs at Flight level -- implying 155mph surface winds. with gusts to 175mph.
MORE AS IT DEVELOPS...
WALL STREET JOURNAL CONFIRMS -- 4:10 PM ET -- Hospital and nursing-home patients were evacuated and as many as 1 million other people were ordered to clear out along the Gulf Coast on Wednesday as Hurricane Rita intensified into a Category 5 storm with winds of 165 miles an hour.
EARLIER from Weather Underground: Satellite estimates now indicate
RITA may in fact have reached CAT 5 Intensity -- although this cannot be confirmed until the Aircraft completes a full sampling of the winds around the entire storm. The Thermal Eye wall temperature gradient is now up to 10°C - indicate of a strong CAT 4 / borderline CAT 5 hurricane. The 25NM Wide eye is currently located near 24.1N/ 85.80W or 700NM SE of Galveston, TX - and is moving west at 10Kts - slightly slower than 12 hours ago..
Though the storm may or may not have actually attained CAT intensity --based on the current imagery derived data - and that fact RITA will be spending the next 12-18 hours crossing the Loop Current -- there is no longer much doubt the storm will become a CAT 5 Hurricane.
The major area of shallow warm water is within 100NM of the Texas coast. This combined with some slight increase in shear expected during the final 12 hours before landfall -- should drop the WIND INTENSITY down by 1 full Category. HOWEVER, as we learned from Katrina -- Wind Intensity, used for Categorizing a Hurricane, doesn't always tell the whole story. Assuming RITA does attain CAT 5 intensity, and stays at that strength, or close to it -- it will develop a huge CATEGORY 5 storm surge that will strike the Texas coast - regardless of any wind speed decrease during the final 12 hours before landfall. Officially, Katrina hit the MS Coast as a strong CAT 3 - but produced a catastrophic Category 5 storm surge damage for a 120 mile stretch of coast line to the east. Rita may strike with the same CAT 5 storm surge -- but I believe it will cover a somewhat smaller extent of coastline -- about 50NM - compared to Katrina's 120 mile wide path of utter devastation. But keep in mind even if the storm does come ashore near Freeport -- the storm surge in Galveston Bay will be severe.
Most continue to report that Rita looks to become a Cat. 5 hurricane but is currently Cat. 4... The debate is on among meteorologists...
FLORIDA'S CHANNEL SIX: "The latest projected path of Hurricane Rita shows the storm on a path toward Texas and possibly strengthening into a Category 5 storm with 155 mph winds as early as Wednesday night, according to Local 6 News meteorologist Larry Mowry.
Hurricane Rita strengthened into a Category 4 storm packing 140 mph winds Wednesday after lashing the Florida Keys.
The storm is expected to continue to grow over the next few days.
"The storm is entering waters that are in the mid to upper 80s and one of the reasons for that is because of the loop current," Mowry said. "The loop current is similar to the Gulf Stream which runs up the east coast of Florida. As the storm runs over the loop current, it is expected to strengthen maybe up to Category 5 status."
Originally published on Wednesday September 21, 2005.