21 September 2005

Rita intensifies very quickly, headed for Texas...

Phillipe has weakened to a tropical storm and will likely struggle to 
maintain that status as it's pounded by strong westerly wind shear.  
It's located  northeast of the Leeward Islands and barely looks tropical
anymore.  Latest intensity estimate is 45kts and 1000mb.

Rita, on the other hand, has strengthened immensely since my last update 
on Monday afternoon.  It became the 9th hurricane of the season on 
Tuesday morning, and continued to strengthen rapidly as it became the 
5th major hurricane of the season early Wednesday morning.  This trend 
continues, and Rita is nearly a CAT5 hurricane now.  The latest central 
pressure as of this writing is 920mb, which means the pressure has 
fallen 28mb in the last 6 hours, and 58mb in the last 24 hours.  One 
wonders how much further it will fall, and will it exceed Katrina's peak 
intensity of 902mb?

It is about to pass over a deep warm eddy in the central Gulf, which 
should give it another boost in intensity.  Then ~12 hours after that, 
it MIGHT pass over a cool eddy and could weaken the storm a bit.  Keep 
in mind the surface temperature of the water is still a toasty 
28.0-29.5C along its projected track, but the DEPTH of that warm water 
can play a role too.

The last official advisory at 15Z had the intensity at 120kts and 944mb, 
but that is already far too weak.  The motion is toward the W at 11kts, 
and environmental conditions are ideal for further strengthening.  The 
forecast calls for the hurricane to maintain CAT4/5 intensity through 
landfall, which raises the age-old questions of when and where.  
Landfall is expected to occur in the early morning hours on Saturday, 
roughly halfway between Galveston/Houston and Corpus Christi, or near 
Port Lavaca.  Although Hurricane Watches are not yet posted for the TX 
coast, mandatory evacuations are already being carried out in the areas 
I just mentioned, particularly vulnerable Galveston and populated 
Houston.  Hurricane Katrina refugees who moved from one costal city to 
another coastal city in the peak of hurricane season are being moved 
again out of harm's way (not a big surprise).  This time, the evacuees 
are moving inland.
Please visit my tropical Atlantic headquarters.

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