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Hurricane Rita on September 21, 2005 at 23:45 UTC.
|Duration||Sept. 17 - 26, 2005|
|Highest winds||175 mph (280 km/h) sustained|
|Damages||$8 billion (insured estimate)|
|Fatalities||6 direct, 113 indirect|
|Areas affected||Bahamas, Florida, Cuba, Yucatan Peninsula, Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi, Arkansas|
|Part of the 2005 Atlantic hurricane season|
Hurricane Rita was the seventeenth named tropical storm, ninth hurricane, fifth major hurricane, and second Category 5 hurricane of the 2005 Atlantic hurricane season. As of October 19, it was the second-most powerful hurricane of the season so far, ahead of Hurricane Katrina but behind Hurricane Wilma. This hurricane is on record as being the strongest measured hurricane to ever have entered the Gulf of Mexico, and the fourth most intense hurricane ever in the Atlantic Basin. After peaking in strength at 175 mph (280 km/h) steady winds, it made landfall between Sabine Pass, Texas, and Johnson's Bayou, Louisiana, at 02:38 CDT (07:38 UTC) on September 24, 2005 as a Category 3 hurricane, with windspeeds of 120 mph (190 km/h) and a storm surge of 10 feet (3 m). 
The storm first struck Florida after making an approach near Cuba and went on to strike Texas and Louisiana. It is doubtful that Cuba saw sustained tropical storm force winds. A day prior to landfall, the resultant storm surge also reopened some of the levee breaches caused by Hurricane Katrina a month earlier, and reflooded parts of New Orleans.  Post-landfall damage was extensive in the coastal areas in southwestern Louisiana and extreme southeastern Texas.
Because the Gulf of Mexico is a major center for crude oil production and refineries, as well as home to some of the busiest ports in the world, Rita initially presented the potential to do damage beyond the localized wind and wave surge. These concerns have so far not been realized, as no reports emerged of long-term damage to the major U.S. refining and shipping capacities in Houston, Texas City, Port Arthur, Texas or Beaumont, Texas  . Power outages may have the greatest related effect.
NOAA reported Rita's record-setting Category 5 strength as a result of achieving a minimum central pressure of 897 millibars (hPa) (26.49 inches of mercury) on the afternoon of September 21, 2005. This record strength steadily diminished prior to landfall after Rita moved over cooler waters in the northern Gulf of Mexico.
Rita's name itself indicates the activity of the 2005 hurricane season; it is only the second time an "R" name has been used since naming of storms began in 1950. Several systems in 1969 went unnamed, so the "R" name was never reached, and the 17th system received the first "M" name used to that time. The only prior 17th tropical systems since 1950 were Hurricane Martha in 1969 and Hurricane Roxanne in 1995.
The storm formed at the tail end of an old frontal boundary, where convection and low level circulation around an upper level low steadily developed for over two days. A surface low formed near it, and the season's 18th tropical depression formed soon thereafter east of the Turks and Caicos Islands. It became the 17th tropical storm of the season on September 18, less than a day after forming. A mandatory evacuation had been ordered for the entire Florida Keys.
Rita was slow to become a hurricane; discussions early on September 20 showed that wind translations to surface level were indeed at 75 mph (120 km/h), however, the lack of a complete eyewall meant that the National Hurricane Center kept Rita as a tropical storm with 70 mph (110 km/h) winds overnight. Aerial reconnaissance data released at 9:45 a.m. EDT that morning showed that Rita had closed the eyewall and winds clearly reached hurricane strength. Four hours later, another special update stated that Rita had reached Category 2 strength with 100 mph (160 km/h) maximum sustained winds.
The warm water in the Gulf of Mexico, which is currently 1 °F (0.5 °C) above average, is favorable for hurricane development. As Hurricane Rita entered the Gulf of Mexico, it rapidly increased in intensity. The National Hurricane Center's official advisories, issued every three hours, showed strengthening at every single advisory from 5 p.m. EDT on September 20 to 11 a.m. EDT on September 21. At that advisory, Rita's maximum sustained winds increased to 140 mph (225 km/h). Rita continued to gain strength unabated. An update issued at 2:15 p.m. CDT (1815 UTC) said that Rita's maximum winds had increased to 150 mph (240 km/h) and a minimum pressure of 920 mbar (hPa). Less than two hours later, at 3:55 p.m. CDT (19:55 UTC), another update was issued, saying Rita had strengthened into a Category 5 storm with maximum wind speeds of 165 mph (265 km/h). At 6:50 p.m. CDT, a reconnaissance aircraft recorded a pressure reading of 899 mbar (hPa), but it was thought to actually be lower since the reading was not from the center. At 10:00 p.m. CDT, the advisory said that Rita's maximum sustained winds had increased to 175 mph (280 km/h) with an estimated minimum pressure of 897 mbar (hPa), (26.59 inHg). Hurricane Rita's rapid intensification may in part be attributed to its encounter with the Gulf Loop Current and Eddy Vortex. (NASA clip depicting the history of the storm before landfall)
Lt. Col. Warren Madden, a Hurricane Hunter and meteorologist for The Weather Channel, recorded a peak wind gust of 235 mph (380 km/h) while in the eye of the storm. "Rita is the strongest storm that I've ever been in," he commented.
Rita's wind field was so intense that it has either destroyed or disabled several weather buoys. Some buoys are adrift after breaking free from their moorings. The latest buoy readings can be found from the National Data Buoy Center.
Rita lost both hurricane and tropical storm status on the same day as its landfall. Rita's remnants -- technically an extensive low pressure area -- moved quickly out of the lower Mississippi Valley region and were absorbed by a cold front. The Hydrometeorological Prediction Center ceased monitoring Tropical Depression Rita early on September 26.
The effects of Hurricane Rita were not nearly as severe as expected. The storm surge feared in Galveston did not materialize, as the city was well to the west of the storm's center; the strong winds actually flattened the surge, which was only seven feet (2 m), and the seawall was easily able to handle it. The 5 inches (130 mm) of rain expected to fall overnight in New Orleans also did not happen, and the pressure on the levee system was eased. However, local storm surges of 15 to 20 feet (4.5-6.1 m) in southwestern Louisiana were reported, and in from coastal parishes, damage was extensive. Cameron Parish was heavily damaged, with the communities of Holly Beach, Hackberry and Cameron being essentially destroyed.  Calcasieu Parish, with the communities of Lake Charles, Sulphur, Westlake and Vinton also suffered heavy damage.
In total, it is estimated that well over 2 million customers were without electricity.  Total insured damage is estimated at $4-6 billion, which means the overall damage will likely be between $8-11 billion. 
|Florida||2 ||Escambia||1 ||1|
|Mississippi||4 ||Humphreys||1 ||1|
|Texas||113 ||Angelina||2 ||1|
|Because of differing sources, totals may not match.|
The reported death toll as of 10 p.m. CDT on October 3 (0300 UTC October 4) stands at 119. Only six of them were direct deaths. One was caused by a hurricane-related tornado in the outer bands, and three others were caused by fallen trees during the storm. The two Florida deaths were both in rip currents on beaches caused by Rita's distant waves.
Direct deaths indicate those caused by the direct effects of the winds, flooding, tornadoes, storm surge or oceanic effects of Rita. Indirect deaths indicate those caused by hurricane-related accidents (including car accidents, fires or other incidents), as well as clean-up and evacuation incidents and health issues (i.e. poisoning, illnesses, waiting for help).
While Rita weakened to a tropical depression, the outer bands continued to spawn numerous tornadoes in Arkansas, including one in Lonoke County and another in Conway County, damaging many homes and businesses in several communities. In addition, significant flooding has been reported in several areas. 
The tornadoes were unusual in that they moved in a northwestern direction due to the direction in which Rita was moving. Most tornadoes move northeast. 
No deaths were reported in Arkansas due to Rita.
South Florida and Cuba
More than 340,000 people were under voluntary or mandatory evacuation orders in Florida and Cuba. Flooding has been reported along the Florida Keys as a result of the storm surge. The Overseas Highway (US 1) connecting the islands is impassable in some sections as a result of the flooding. As of 8 p.m. EDT on Tuesday, September 20, about 25,000 customers were without electricity in Broward and Miami-Dade counties, plus another 2,100 in the Keys. 
A state of emergency has been declared by Florida Governor Jeb Bush and a federal emergency by President George W. Bush in four counties: Broward, Collier, Miami-Dade and Monroe. More than 2,000 National Guard troops and dozens of law enforcement officers have been brought in and are on standby. 
New Orleans levee system had already sustained heavy damage from Hurricane Katrina before Rita's outer bands of rain fell on the city. On Friday, September 23, the day prior to landfall, rising water due to Hurricane Rita was pouring through breaches in the patched Industrial Canal levee in New Orleans' already hard-hit Ninth Ward, as reported by the Army Corps of Engineers. Water entered the Ninth Ward over two 32-foot (10 m) wide patches in the levee as of about 9 a.m. CDT on Friday, September 23. Water in the Ninth Ward was reported to be waist-deep at 11 a.m. CDT on Friday. By approximately 5 p.m. CDT, water had begun gushing through another leak in the patched London Avenue Canal into the surrounding Gentilly neighborhood. Some pumping stations were abandoned. As of Saturday night, September 24, water from a 150-foot gap in the Industrial Canal levee had some areas of the Ninth Ward under eight feet of water. 
Damage in southwestern Louisiana is extensive. In Cameron Parish, the communities of Hackberry , Cameron, and Holly Beach were heavily damaged or entirely destroyed. Many homes throughout the region have damaged roofs. A casino boat and several barges were floating loose in Lake Charles and damaged a bridge spanning Interstate 10 across the Calcasieu River. Lake Charles experienced severe flooding, with reports of water rising 6-8 feet in areas around the lake itself. At a hotel on the Contraband Bayou, water was reportedly up to the second floor. There was also extensive damage to its regional airport.  Damage to the city's electrical system was so severe that authorities warned that power would not return for two weeks, if not longer.
In Vinton, several fires were burning, the roof was torn off the town's recreation center and many homes were damaged by fallen trees. Widespread flooding was reported in coastal parishes. In Terrebonne Parish, virtually every levee was breached.  Some people were stranded in flooded communities, and boats had to be used for rescues. It has been reported that at least 100 people needed to be rescued from rooftops, and at least 25 more remain stranded. 
Several tornadoes from Rita's outer bands affected the state. At least 40 homes and an industrial plant were damaged from one tornado in Humphreys County in central Mississippi, in which one person was killed. Another unconfirmed tornado was reported in Bolivar County.
A tornado touched down on Mississippi State University's campus. MSU officials do not have specific damage assesments available; however, they do note there was significant damage to some buildings. There were also numerous mobile homes damaged at the University Hills trailer park just off the campus. There were several non-life threatening injuries.
On the morning of September 23, a bus carrying 45 nursing home evacuees from Brighton Gardens in Bellaire, Texas erupted into flames and exploded on Interstate 45 southeast of Dallas in Wilmer. Twenty three people were killed as a result of that incident. The fire started in the brake system, and the passengers' therapeutic oxygen tanks may have caused the bus to explode. , Many of the passengers were mobility-impaired making escape difficult or impossible. 
In the late evening, a fire broke out in the Strand District of Galveston, Texas, gutting several homes. However, the fire department was able to fight the blaze and prevent it from spreading through the city. No serious injuries were reported in the fire. Around midnight, a vacant restaurant collapsed nearby, which was reportedly as a result of the fire that weakened the walls. 
For the most part, Houston seems to have escaped major damage, apart from extensive loss of power. Some windows blew out of some downtown skyscrapers, and some trees and signals are down.  Thirty one deaths have been reported in Harris County, of which all of them were indirect (mostly related to the evacuation and cleanup). 
North of Houston, the 2.5 mile Lake Livingston dam sustained substantial damage from powerful waves driven by 117 mph winds  and had to conduct an emergency release in order to lessen pressure on the dam. As reported by the a number of news outlets, on Sunday, September 25, 2005, this discharge put lives at risk downstream and threatened a major bridge as well due to a sizable barge coming adrift. Repairs to the dam are expected to take months to complete.  After water levels were lowered and an inspection was conducted by national and local experts, the dam was declared stable late on Monday, September 26, 2005. 
All communities in the "Golden Triangle" formed by Beaumont, Port Arthur, and Orange sustained enormous damage from Rita's winds. Texas Governor Rick Perry declared a nine county disaster area. In Beaumont an estimated 25% of the trees in the heavily wooded neighborhoods were uprooted. In Groves, the home of Texas' Pecan Festival, an equal number of the pecan trees were leveled. An enormous number of houses and businesses suffered extensive damage due to falling trees and directly from Rita's winds. The water treatment plant in Port Neches was heavily damaged. Some areas will not have power for an estimated six weeks. A mandatory evacuation was issued before Rita's landfall. Those displaced by Rita have been offered up to 60 days of hotel rooms, generators, chainsaws, and monetary assistance by FEMA. The "Golden Triangle" area was spared a more devastating ocean surge by the redirection of Rita's path hours before landfall. This placed most of the coastal community to the left of the eye and in the least damaging hurricane quadrant. Rita's ocean surge was easily handled by Port Arthur's extensive levee system. Bolivar Peninsula between Galveston and Sabine Pass had only a small ocean surge, in contrast to the eastern side of Rita's center which sent a 20 foot ocean surge through Louisiana's unprotected towns.
Preparations and risk
New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin had planned to begin reopening the city after the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina on Monday, September 19.  Instead, a re-evacuation of the city was initiated on Wednesday, September 21. Even though Rita's forecast track kept the center of circulation well to the south and west of New Orleans, a pre-landfall storm surge was able to overwhelm a levee protecting the lower 9th Ward , a part of a fragile and already compromised levee system as repairs continue.  At landfall, more parts of the levee wall were breached causing major reflooding in New Orleans. The original breaches had occured a month earlier as a result of Hurricane Katrina. 
Texas Governor Rick Perry recalled all emergency personnel, including almost 1,200 Texas National Guard from Katrina recovery efforts, in anticipation of Hurricane Rita's arrival.  On September 22, Governor Perry and the Texas Department of Transportation implemented a contraflow lane reversal on Interstate 45 north towards Dallas, on Interstate 10 west towards San Antonio and U.S. Highway 290 northwest to Bryan/College Station.
Officials in Galveston County (which includes the city of Galveston), which was devastated by the Galveston Hurricane of 1900, ordered mandatory evacuations, effective September 21 at 6 p.m., in a staggered sequence setting different zones in the area which were due to leave at different times over 24 hours, well in advance of the storm's possible landfall later in the week but not enough in advance to ensure that all residents could evacuate safely in advance of the storm.
Several thousand people remained in and around Galveston. Many homeowners and storeowners said that they were not aware that their uninsured businesses would be covered by FEMA in the event of a hurricane, and they stayed to defend their property. They also said they believed that they would be safe in their homes, despite warnings about the dangers of high-speed winds. Another common belief was that flooding would occur over the seawall which runs along the southern part of the island; this had been quoted on CNN and other news sources but may be incorrect. In June of 2005, the Office of Emergency Management for Galveston County showed the Workshop session of the Galveston City Council a presentation which showed that flooding would occur from the north, unprotected side of the island. (Sources: The Houston Chronicle, phone interviews with residents remaining on the island, and the Galveston City Council workshop session in June, 2005.)
Officials of Harris County hoped that the designation of zones A, B, and C would be able to prevent bottlenecks leaving the area such as those seen out of New Orleans prior to Katrina and Hurricane Dennis this year. Also, different zones were to be forced to go to certain cities in Texas and were not allowed to exit their designated routes except for food and gas - another feature of the evacuation plan which hoped to keep traffic and flow orderly throughout this timeframe. These evacuation-destination cities included Austin, College Station, Huntsville, and Lufkin, Texas.
On Wednesday, Houston mayor Bill White urged residents to evacuate the city, telling residents, "Don't wait; the time for waiting is over," and reminding residents of the disaster in New Orleans. After heavy traffic snarled roads leading out of town and gas shortages left numerous vehicles stranded, he backed off on this. "If you're not in the evacuation zone, follow the news," he said, advising people to use common sense.
Officials in the "Golden Triangle" area had set up evacuation routes and a shelter system of sorts in response to the slow evacuation of residents prior to hurricane Lilly. Highway 73 between Port Arthur and Winnie was also widened to facilitate future evacuations in response to an even earlier hurricane. After Lilly, citizens came back with complaints of long lines of cars caused by stop lights and stop signs along evacuation routes unattended by anyone from law enforcement. Plans were put in place to open up these intersections. During the Rita evacuation these preperations and their execution were overwhelmed by the enormous and unprecedented numbers of people fleeing from the Houston area prior to the residents of the "Golden Triangle". By the time Jefferson County began their mandatory evacuation up Highway 69, 96 and others, Houstonians had already clogged up these highway arteries to the North. Designated evacuation routes slowed to a pace far worse than with any previous hurricane. Distances that usually took 2-3 hours of travel time took some passengers upwards of 24 hours. Contraflow lanes were instigated after it was realized that a the state's highway system had become gridlocked. The Texas Department of Transportation was unprepared to execute this in an efficient way and in many cases without a release point to the North traffic would only speed up for a short time. Evacuees fought traffic all day and only moved about one hundred to one-hundred and fifty miles. Many motorists ran out of gas despite turning off their air conditioners in the 98 degree record temperatures.
Concerns have been raised over the state of the oil industry in response to Rita. The storm threatened a large amount of oil infrastructure that was left undamaged by Katrina. The Texas Gulf Coast is home to 23% of the United States' refining capacity, and numerous offshore production platforms are potentially in Rita's path. While no potential storm path would threaten all of the capacity at once, a direct strike on Houston could disable up to 8% of the nation's refining capacity. Valero Energy Corp, the nation's largest refiner, stated on September 21 that Rita could cause gasoline prices to rise well above $3 per US gallon ($0.79/L).
|Top ten most intense Atlantic hurricanes since measurements began
Hurricane intensity is measured solely by central pressure; source: NOAA
|North Atlantic||Landfall U.S.|
|Based on data from: The Weather Channel||Based on data from: U.S. National Hurricane Center|
Rita has broken multiple records, being the earliest 17th named storm, the third most intense storm, and quickest drop of pressure in one hour. Hurricane Rita was the third most intense hurricane on record in the Atlantic basin and the most intense hurricane on record in the Gulf of Mexico, taking over the latter record set by Hurricane Katrina only three weeks earlier.
If it had not weakened (see Loop Current), Rita would have tied a record for Category-4/5 storms hitting the U.S. in one year - two Category 4 storms hit once before in 1915 (one estimated to be 4 by the strength of the winds).  Coincidentally, the 1915 storms hit New Orleans and Galveston.
The heavy concentration of oil infrastructure in the Gulf of Mexico makes hurricanes of Rita's intensity very problematic. Currently, there is very little spare crude oil capacity in the United States, and the Gulf of Mexico produces some 2 million barrels per day (300,000 m³) total, as well has having some 30% of the total refining capacity of the United States, which is the world's largest consumer of gasoline and crude oil. Rita's path takes it through a dense area of offshore pipelines and oil platforms, and on land to an area with large refineries. With over half of Gulf production still shut down in the wake of Katrina, some economists have stated that a worst case scenario is for gasoline prices to briefly touch $5/US gallon ($1.30/L), which would be easily the highest real price for gasoline paid in the United States during the internal combustion era. However the oil industry escaped essentially unscathed from the storm and post-storm predictions estimated only minor price rises. With some 200,000 jobless claims attributed to Katrina, Rita could be a further drag on a weakened US economy.
The most pessimistic projections have GDP growth cut by 1% on an annualized basis in the United States in the second half of 2005, with as many as 500,000 people made unemployed. Some economists argue that the rebuilding effort could buoy the economy in 2006, while others argue that the energy spike could decrease consumer confidence by enough to send the economy into a full-fledged recession when combined with the Federal Reserve's recent increases in interest rates.
Due to the impending oil shortage and increasing gas prices, Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue declared what he termed "snow days," closing all Georgia public schools on September 26 and 27 to conserve fuel for buses.
Refineries directly impacted by the storm include:
- Calcasieu Refining, Lake Charles, Louisiana, 324,300 barrels per day (b/d)
- Damage: power, phones out, some wind damage; control room, admin building OK
- Estimated repair time: no report
- Citgo Petroleum (Petroleos de Venezuela), Lake Charles, Louisiana, 310,000 b/d
- Damage: minor damage, stripped away insulation from cooling towers
- Estimated repair time: did not comment
- ConocoPhillips, Lake Charles, Louisiana, 250,000 b/d
- Damage: wind damage
- Estimated repair time: did not comment
- ExxonMobil, Beaumont, Texas 348,000 b/d
- Damage: initial assessments do not indicate significant damage
- Estimated repair time: did not comment
- Motiva Enterprises (Royal Dutch Shell & Saudi Refining), Port Arthur, Texas, 285,000 b/d
- Damage: minor damage, cooling water-tower
- Estimated repair time: did not comment
- Total SA, Port Arthur, Texas, 180,000 b/d
- Damage: no report
- Estimated repair time: no report
- Valero, Port Arthur, Texas, 250,000 b/d
- Damage: two cooling towers and a flare stack
- Estimated repair time: two weeks to a month
Rescue and reconstruction
Military relief operations
On September 24, 2005, following the havoc caused by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the National Guard named Brig. Gen. Douglas Pritt of the 41st Brigade Combat Team, Oregon Army National Guard, head of Joint Task Force Rita (formally called JTF Ponchartrain) (, ). The 1,400 Oregonian soliders and airmen, including the 1st Batallion of the 186th Infantry which is designated a quick responce unit, are joined by engineers and military police from Louisiana, a Stryker brigade from Pennsylvania, and an engineering batallion from Missouri. It is their mission to provide relief support for all of the areas in Texas and Louisiana effected by the two storms and to remove obstructions that might otherwise hinder help to those affected.
American Red Cross operations
The American Red Cross continued to provide disaster relief to Hurricane Katrina affected areas, but as a result of Hurricane Rita, had to open additional shelters in other gulf states. The Red Cross also expanded their Hurricane Katrina internet "Safe List" for use by those affected by Hurricane Rita.
- The NHC's archive on Hurricane Rita
- The HPC's archive on Tropical Depression Rita
- RitaInfo.com - Hurricane Rita Info, News, and Resources
- NewsNow.co.uk's Hurricane Watch newsfeed
- The Disaster Center's Rita coverage
- TAOS Autorun - Real-time damage estimates
- Hurricane Rita Supply Availability Map
- "The Oil Drum: Rita Resource Page for Oil and Natural Gas Infrastructure Damage"The Oil Drum: Rita Oil and Gas Resources
- Research Model Advances Hurricane Intensity Prediction
- Increasing destructiveness of tropical cyclones
- Changes in Tropical Cyclone Number, Duration, and Intensity in a Warming Environment
- Science Magazine Katrina/Rita page
- Color Enhanced Infrared Satelite Video of Hurricane Rita