Hurricane Rita

September 22, 2005 at 4:44 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

It seems incredible. But for the second time in three weeks, a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico has reached Category 5. Of course, Katrina dropped to Category 4 before landfall. And the same thing may happen with Rita. But winds are now at 175 mph. And it will probably still be around 150 mph when it reaches the Texas coast early Saturday morning, before sunrise. Rita’s central pressure has dropped to 897 millibars, or 26.49 inches. That makes Rita the third most intense hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic basin. Only the Labor Day hurricane that hit the Florida Keys in 1935, and Hurricane Gilbert, that hit the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico in 1988 have registered lower pressures. (Although some typhoons in the western Pacific have shown lower central pressures).

It now looks like Rita may make landfall between Freeport and Galveston. If so, it is the worst possible scenario. That would drive a huge storm surge right across Galveston Island and through Galveston Bay and up the Houston Ship Channel. This could cause devastation on Galveston Island similar to what they experienced in 1900. Thankfully, though, we know this one is coming, so virtually the entire population of the island has been evacuated, so we won’t see a loss of life like we did in 1900.

But as the storm surge and catastrophic winds spread inland, they will impact the Texas City-League City-Pasadena-Baytown area, which hosts the greatest concentration of petroleum refineries in the world. If those are shut down for any significant length of time, as seems likely, it could have a huge impact on gasoline prices. And farther inland, the millions who live in the greater Houston area are going to be severely affected by this storm, with major wind damage and massive flooding.

Eventually, Rita will makes it’s way northward into the Dallas-Fort Worth area. And what will we expect to see here? I am expecting maybe 5 inches or more of rain across north Texas, during Saturday night and Sunday. Most of our lakes are well below normal pool levels, and can take a lot of runoff. So Rita could be a real boon for us, in helping to alleviate the drought. But there will likely be wind gusts still in the 50 mph range this far inland (although sustained winds will be less than 40 mph). And that will be enough to break some tree limbs, which might, in turn, cause sporadic power outages in some neighborhoods. And there is always the possibility of a few tornadoes, but those are going to be very few in number, and spread across a wide area, so it’s not really likely that we will see many tornadoes here.

The real concern is whether Rita will slow down and stall over north Texas. By Monday, the winds will be insignificant, less than 30 mph. But if Rita lingers over north Texas, we could get another 5 inches of rain. And that could mean some serious flooding problems by Sunday night or Monday. Let’s hope that Rita keeps moving.

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