Looking at the satellite picture over the past couple hours — since say around 8PM or so — it appears (at least to this untrained eye) that Rita has again took a jog to the west, perhaps a little north of due west rather than its mostly northwestward motion most of the day today.
This is why I’m not ready to say all clear to Houston/Galveston yet. One of the National Hurricane Center’s newest models, the WRF, is still predicting a worst-case scenario for the region. The track is prime to push a 15+ foot storm surge up the Galveston Bay — although I notice that its from 00z Thu (which would be yesterday evening). I am going to be very interested to see the model’s run tonight.
From an MSNBC article on the model:
“In a previous test, ARW captured in detail the collapse of Hurricane Katrina’s eyewall at landfall and the shift of precipitation to the north side of the storm, Davis and colleagues say…
…The new model, called ARW, works on a grid of data points about 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) apart, closer than other models in use. It can project the location of fine-scale rain bands and structures in the hurricane’s central eyewall 48 hours into the future.”
Please remember folks that hurricane forecasts, even 24-36 hours out.. can be off by 50 miles or more. If you are still in the cone by midday Friday, I’d start worrying.
Ed @ WeatherBlog
A Category 5 storm surge on the Texas coast:
“A Category 4 or 5 level storm surge is likely along a 60 - 80 miles stretch of coast to the right of where the storm makes landfall on Saturday. Storm surge heights will peak at 15 - 20 feet in some bays, and bring the ocean inland up to 50 miles from the coast. Large sections of I-10 between Houston and Beaumont could be inundated, and the flood waters may reach the cities of Beaumont, Orange, and Lake Charles.”
Ed @ WeatherBlog
Some of you may be wondering where the winds came from that pushed Rita over the edge to Category 5. In one of its dropsondes earlier in the afternoon, the Hurricane Hunter found a wind of 173 knots *sustained* at a level of 139 meters above the surface. Translated into English, that’s TWO HUNDRED miles per hour at only 456 feet.
This storm is nothing short of incredible, other than Charley last year, I don’t ever remember a storm strengthening this fast. Wow.
Ed @ WeatherBlog.
FYI… I saw someone in the comments ask where the information is available. What is called the recon “vortex message” is available here, and the directions on how to read it are here. Note that these reports are updated much less frequently than the dropsonde reports.
I’ve been talking with my meteorologist friend whos been helping me to translate the recon reports. According to him, the pressure has dropped again to 928 mb however the dropsonde itself missed the eye so this may not be the lowest pressure (evidenced by the 35kt winds found at the surface by the dropsondea). Also, we’re not sure if we’re reading this right.. but the plane may have found a 152kt Flight level wind… although we’re sure of 143 knots. In English, those are 175 and 165mph winds respectively.
Using the common rule of about 85-90% of the Flight level wind making it to the surface.. that would yield a 130-135 knot, or 150-155mph hurricane… in other words, pretty darn close to Category 5.
Ed @ WeatherBlog
Cross-posted from WeatherBlog…
DATA FROM THE KEY WEST NOAA DOPPLER RADAR AND AN AIR FORCE RESERVE UNIT RECONNAISSANCE AIRCRAFT INDICATE MAXIMUM SUSTAINED WINDS HAVE NOW INCREASED TO NEAR 110 MPH…175 KM/HR…WITH HIGHER GUSTS. RITA IS A STRONG CATEGORY TWO HURRICANE ON THE SAFFIR-SIMPSON SCALE. ADDITIONAL STRENGTHENING IS FORECAST DURING THE NEXT 24 HOURS…AND RITA IS EXPECTED TO BECOME A CATEGORY THREE HURRICANE WEDNESDAY MORNING… AND REACH CATEGORY FOUR STRENGTH BY WEDNESDAY EVENING.
Rita is expected to continue to rapidly intensify over the next 24 hours as evidenced by the statement above. Guidance is also beginning to shift eastward as well. However, I still wouldn’t put New Orleans in the crosshairs, I feel somewhat confident that another direct hit for the Big Easy is not all that likely. However, if I was in Galveston or Houston — I’d begin to worry, and would watch this one real closely.
Could you believe it that this may be yet ANOTHER CAT 5?????? That would be the second this season… that’s practically unheard of. The last season with two Category 5’s — 44 years ago in 1961… Carla and Hattie.
Ed @ WeatherBlog
Hi all, Ed from WeatherBlog.
Here’s something to ponder as we watch Rita strengthen quite rapidly south of the Florida keys. Imagine if this storm would have gotten its act together before … and would have been a major hurricane. Remember that basically none of the Keys are above sea level, thus it doesn’t take much to flood.
Scary thought eh. Now all we can hope is this storm doesn’t take Galveston head on, yet another city which is prone to storm surge flooding. Oy vey.
Update: As Brendan points out in the comments, the way this is written is slightly misleading. Yes, they are islands by definition and are thus above sea level — but I think the highest point on any of them is less than 10 feet. Storm surge would overwash the island — however unlike NO it would drain as the storm passes. Still — you look at something similar to what happened to the Maldives during the tsunami. Same idea.. to a lesser degree of course.