Following less than a month after Hurricane Katrina devastated large parts of the central Gulf Coast region, Hurricane Rita was the second hurricane of the season to reach Category 5 status (on the Saffir-Simpson scale) in the Gulf of Mexico. This marked the first time on record that two hurricanes reached Category 5 strength in the Gulf of Mexico in the same season. Additionally, it was only the third time that two Category 5 storms formed in the Atlantic Basic in the same year.
One of the strongest storms on record for the Atlantic Basin, peak sustained winds reached 175 mph as the storm tracked west and northwest through the Gulf. Weakening occurred during the 36 hours prior to landfall but Rita brought hurricane strength winds more than 150 miles inland and caused significant damage along the coast. Hurricane Rita made landfall with windspeeds of 120 mph along the Texas/Louisiana border early on September 24th.
At its peak intensity, Rita’s minimum central pressure reached 897 mb. Only two other storms in recorded history have had lower pressures in the Atlantic:
Hurricane Gilbert, Cozumel, Mexico, September 14th 1988, 888mb, category 5, near 185 mph
The Labor Day Hurricane, Florida Keys, September 2, 1935, 892 mb, Category 5, approaching 200 mph
Although the region was well-prepared for the storm, the devastation across the Louisiana/Texas border region was widespread. While there are currently few reports of injuries or deaths as a direct result of the storm, unlike the large loss of life from Hurricane Katrina, a massive evacuation effort likely saved much loss of life. The most deadly hurricane to strike the U.S. made landfall in Galveston, Texas on September 8, 1900. This was also the greatest natural disaster ever to strike the U.S., claiming more than 8000 lives when the storm surge caught the residents of this island city by surprise.