Hurricane Rita was the fourth-most intense Atlantic hurricane ever recorded and the most intense tropical cyclone ever observed in the Gulf of Mexico. Rita caused $11.3 billion in damage on the U.S. Gulf Coast in September 2005. Rita was the seventeenth named storm, tenth hurricane, fifth major hurricane, and third Category 5 hurricane of the historic 2005 Atlantic hurricane season. Rita made landfall on September 24 between Sabine Pass, Texas and Johnsons Bayou, Louisiana, as a Category 3 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale. It continued on through parts of southeast Texas.
The storm surge caused extensive damage along the Louisiana and extreme southeastern Texas coasts and completely destroyed some coastal communities. The storm killed seven people directly; many others died in evacuations and from indirect effects. Storm History The storm system that became Rita formed at the tail of an old frontal boundary, where convection and low-level circulation around an upper-level low developed steadily for over two days.
A surface low formed near the disturbance, and the season’s 18th tropical depression soon formed east of the Turks and Caicos. Less than a day after forming, the depression became the 17th tropical storm of the season on September 18 and was named Rita. A mandatory evacuation was ordered for the entire Florida Keys. Rita was slow to become a hurricane; National Hurricane Center (NHC) reports early on September 20 estimated the storm’s sustained surface winds at hurricane force (75 mph or 120 km/h). However, Rita lacked a complete eyewall; forecasters identified Rita as a tropical storm with 70 mph (110 km/h) winds overnight.
Aircraft observations released at 9:45 a.m. EDT showed a closed eyewall and winds clearly at hurricane strength. Four hours later, the NHC reported that Rita had reached Category 2 hurricane strength, with 100 mph (160 km/h) maximum sustained winds.Warm water in the Gulf of Mexico, 1 °F (0.5 °C) above average, favored storm intensification. As Rita entered the Gulf, rapid intensification began. National Hurricane Center advisories issued every three hours each showed strengthening from 5 p.m. EDT on September 20 to 11 a.m. EDT on September 21, when Rita’s maximum sustained winds increased to 140 mph (225 km/h). Rita continued to gain strength unabated. An update at 2:15 p.m. CDT (1815 UTC) said maximum winds had increased to 150 mph (240 km/h) and Rita’s minimum pressure was 920 mbar (hPa). Less than two hours later, at 3:55 p.m. CDT, another update reported that Rita had strengthened to a Category 5 hurricane, with maximum wind speeds of 165 mph (265 km/h). At 6:50 p.m. CDT, a reconnaissance aircraft recorded pressure of 899 mbar (hPa) away from the storm’s center; the actual central pressure was thought to be lower still. At 10 p.m.
CDT, Rita reached its maximum intensity, with sustained winds of 180 mph (290 km/h) and an estimated minimum pressure of 895 mbar (hPa), (26.43 in Hg). Hurricane Rita’s rapid intensification may in part be attributed to its passage over the Gulf Loop Current and Eddy Vortex. (NASA animation showing the storm track before landfall)Lt. Col. Warren Madden, a Hurricane Hunter and meteorologist for The Weather Channel, recorded a peak wind gust of 235 mph (380 km/h) while flying in the eye of the storm, and called Rita “the strongest storm that I’ve ever been in.” Rita’s intense winds destroyed or disabled several buoy-based weather stations.Rita made landfall between Sabine Pass, Texas, and Johnson Bayou, Louisiana, at 02:38 CDT (07:38 UTC) on September 24, 2005 as a category 3 Hurricane with winds at 115 mph. Rita lost both hurricane and tropical storm status the day of landfall. Rita’s remnants technically an extensive low pressure area moved quickly out of the lower Mississippi Valley and were absorbed by a cold front. The Hydrometeorological Prediction Center ceased monitoring Tropical Depression Rita early on September 26.
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