|Hurricane Rita Near Peak Intensity In the Gulf
A tail end of a front stalled over the Bahamas on September 18, and organized to become a Tropical Depression. It became Tropical
Storm Rita the next day, and mandatory evacuations were issued for the Florida Keys, which were in the center of its projected
path. Rita was expected to strengthen rapidly as it barreled WNW towards the Keys, but it spent a long time a thread below
hurricane strength because the Hurricane Hunter aircraft could not find a closed eye.
It was finally upgraded to Hurricane Rita on September 20 just south of Florida. Four hours later, Rita was a Category
2 storm with 100mph winds. Fortunately, Rita passed right between Cuba and the Florida keys, further south than expected,
sparing additional damage to the keys. Widespread flooding affected the keys, but no deaths were reported. Rita then continued
to intensify as it entered the Gulf of Mexico, similar to what Hurricane Katrina did just weeks before.
At 11am on September 21, Rita was a strong category four storm with winds of 140mph. Then on the evening of September
21, Rita reached a record pressure of 897mbar, packing winds of 175mph. This made it the third most intense atlantic hurricane
on record, however Hurricane Wilma would later push it back to 4th place. Steady weakening began to occur after it reached
this monumental pressure. It continued through the gulf on a path towards northern Texas, with a projected landfall in the
Houston vicinity. This prompted evacuations for the immidiate coast, and eventually for the greater Houston metropolis.
Fortunately, Rita had other plans and made landfall near the Texas-Louisiana border as a Category 3 storm, sparing the
greater Houston area. After landfall, the storm moved north and eventually northeast and weakened to a tropical depression
on the same day of landfall.
One hundred and nineteen deaths have been reported due to Rita, with 113 of the deaths in Texas. Some of the deaths occured
when a bus carrying 45 nursing home evacuees exploded, killing 23. Damage estimates were not as severe as originally predicted,
but upwards of 10 billion dollars in damage still occured.