19 September 2005

Philippe and Rita both strengthening...

Philippe was upgraded to a hurricane -- the 9th of the season -- at 03Z 
today based on satellite presentation.  It is a minimal hurricane with 
65kt sustained winds, but it is forecast to intensify, perhaps reaching 
CAT3 status in a few days.  The good news is that it is in the central 
Atlantic and will remain there, heading north.  At 15Z, it was located 
at 17.4N 56.3W, or about 5 degrees east of the Leeward Islands.

TD18 was upgraded to TS Rita at 21Z yesterday, and the storm is 
apparently starting a rapid intensification phase now, with structural 
improvements every hour.  A plane is en route as I write this and I 
suspect it will find that Rita is now a hurricane.  As of 15Z, TS Rita 
was located at 23.0N 75.2W (over Great Exuma Island in the Bahamas) and 
tracking WNW at 10kts.  The estimated intensity was 55kts and 994mb, but 
that will be updated with actual observations once the aircraft 
penetrates the storm in the near future.  The SSTs in the storm's 
immediate path are very warm, 30C+, with a strong ridge to the north 
providing minimal wind shear and westward steering flow.

More and more computer models favor a major hurricane hitting the 
Florida Keys on Tuesday afternoon/evening, which would be devastating, 
since mandatory evacuations have only begun this morning.  Furthermore, 
the storm will then enter the Gulf of Mexico and has no obvious factors 
to keep it from becoming even stronger.  As of now, the landfall 
position is anywhere from the central TX coast eastward to eastern LA, 
and although intensity is not accurately known out that far, it should 
be rather strong.  This landfall on the Gulf Coast is expected to occur 
late Friday into early Saturday, depending on the exact track.

A Hurricane Warning is in place for some of northwestern Cuba, Andros 
Island in the Bahamas, and all of the southern tip of Florida.  
Mandatory evacuation orders are in place for the Florida Keys, and 
voluntary evacuations are occuring further north toward Miami.
Please visit my tropical Atlantic headquarters.

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