The latest recon shows that Hurricane Rita has continued to strengthen. The central pressure is now down to 973 mb and winds are maintained at 100 mph. I suspect that this intensity estimate is just about right. Actually, I suspect that Rita was already this strong this morning when a satellite pass indicated this intensity but NHC went with a recon report showing only 80 mph winds.
Hurricane Rita has just moved passed Key West and conditions should begin to improve there. Luckily they missed the brunt of the eyewall.
Rita is finally starting to show an eye structure, but the eyewall is having a hard time closing off. Right now she maintaining a ragged and dirty eye.
The models continue to shift all over the place but continue to indicate a landing somewhere in Texas, maybe near Corpus Christi. However, I am by no means ready to put my neck on the line with this one. Please remember that this is the 18z model run which often is worth much less than the prior run from 12z. Once we get the 00z run in, I will take another look at this. I am very nervous about a northern Gulf coast landfall right now. The storms tend to act funny when they first enter the Gulf and we often see hooks. The forecast track is still very uncertain. Remember, even a small storm surge or some heavy rains could reflood New Orleans.
I still think we could see a substantial shift in forecast once Rita enters the Gulf. Just keep in mind what happened to Katrina and Charley once they hit the Gulf of Mexico. However, the models have remained consistent in their inconsistencies. This makes Texas look like an increasingly likely target for a major hurricane strike.
Strengthening still remains likely at Rita solidifies her eyewall. Once a sturdy eyewall is in place, intensity fluctuations are likely due to eyewall replacement cycles>.