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Bad News: Hurricane Rita Is Category 5

From Weather Underground:

Weather Underground: Wunder Blog: SEP 21 2005 - 1:20PM CDT: The latest RECON reports confirm RITA is now a CATASTROPHIC CATEGORY 5 Hurricane. Center Pressure is down to 920mb, and MAX Sustained winds of 153KTs at Flight level -- implying 155mph surface winds. with gusts to 175mph.

SEPT 21, 2005 / 11:45 AM RITA EXTREMELY DANGEROUS CATEGORY 5 INTENSITY WITHIN HOURS SEVERE THREAT TO COASTAL TEXAS FROM NEAR PORT O'CONNOR NORTHWARD TO PORT ARTHUR -- LANDFALL IN 70 HOURS: A RECON just arrived - and found a central pressure of 934MB, with a MAX sustained Flight level wind of 137kts in the east quadrant, implying a surface sustained wind of 135mph. Satellite estimates now indicate RITA may in fact have reached CAT 5 Intensity -- although this cannot be confirmed until the Aircraft completes a full sampling of the winds around the entire storm. The Thermal Eye wall temperature gradient is now up to 10°C - indicate of a strong CAT 4 / borderline CAT 5 hurricane. The 25NM Wide eye is currently located near 24.1N/ 85.80W or 700NM SE of Galveston, TX - and is moving west at 10Kts - slightly slower than 12 hours ago...

Though the storm may or may not have actually attained CAT intensity --based on the current imagery derived data - and that fact RITA will be spending the next 12-18 hours crossing the Loop Current -- there is no longer much doubt the storm will become a CAT 5 Hurricane. From that point on -- Rita will likely fluctuate in intensity as eye wall replacement cycles commence -- but also -- by Thursday, the storm will be moving over slightly cooler waters -- and the SST analysis shows a serious of 'warm' and 'cool' water pools of water scattered about the Gulf. Passage over a slightly cooler area of water would no doubt cause some weakening, while the converse would be true if is moves across a warmer pool of water. However, with the storm moving at a solid 10-12Kts -- and no significant slowdown expected -- the change in intensity may not be as pronounced as typical -- since the storm is 'on the move' and will continually be moving over still relatively warm surface waters.

The major area of shallow warm water is within 100NM of the Texas coast. This combined with some slight increase in shear expected during the final 12 hours before landfall -- should drop the WIND INTENSITY down by 1 full Category. HOWEVER, as we learned from Katrina -- Wind Intensity, used for Categorizing a Hurricane, doesn't always tell the whole story. Assuming RITA does attain CAT 5 intensity, and stays at that strength, or close to it -- it will develop a huge CATEGORY 5 storm surge that will strike the Texas coast - regardless of any wind speed decrease during the final 12 hours before landfall. Officially, Katrina hit the MS Coast as a strong CAT 3 - but produced a catastrophic Category 5 storm surge damage for a 120 mile stretch of coast line to the east. Rita may strike with the same CAT 5 storm surge -- but I believe it will cover a somewhat smaller extent of coastline -- about 50NM - compared to Katrina's 120 mile wide path of utter devastation. But keep in mind even if the storm does come ashore near Freeport -- the storm surge in Galveston Bay will be severe.

The latest 12Z model runs are clustered very tightly on a landfall between Port O'Conner and Freeport Saturday morning & the consensus for intensity estimates are for a strong CAT 4. Those living in the coastal area from near Corpus Christi to Galveston should begin evacuation within the next 24 hours. Those living north of Galveston to Lake Charles, LA, and from Corpus Christi to Brownsville -- should have a 'Plan' in place in the event the storm veers off the expected track...