This has been an absolutely incredible hurricane season, and we are still near the peak. Hurricane Rita's explosive growth has finally stopped and she has weakened slightly. Fortunately, Rita should slowly continue to weaken until landfall, with a small period of intensification likely. At this point it looks like Rita is completing an eyewall replacement cycle and could strengthen very soon. Rita's central pressure is not at 917 mb and her winds are down to 140 mph. To me, this is an even clearer sign of an eyewall replacement cycle, although cooler ocean temperatures could also be to blame. Overnight Rita is moving over a warmer ocean eddy which could aid a temporary reintensification.
Aircraft recon earlier reported a central pressure of 897 mb. This makes Hurricane Rita the third most intense hurricane ever record in the Atlantic. This places Rita behind Gilbert in 1988 with 888mb, and the 1935 Labor Day Hurricane with 892 mb. Last month Hurricane Katrina recorded 902 mb. Right now the central pressure is up to 917 mb. Please remember that althought Rita is now a Category 4 storm, she can still pack storm surge of a Category 5.
The infrared satellite image shows a slightly weaker core that is trying to again rebuild. The last several hours are showing signs of a storm that is trying to get her act back together. Very deep convection has wrapped around the entire core, and the eye seems to be solid again. We are now seeing a solid outer eyewall taking control of the storm. The contraction of this eyewall is likely to help Rita maximize her winds as landfall approaches.
The latest model run continues to favor a landfall somewhere between Galveston and western Louisiana. Today's motion has been a little to the right of the forecast track, so I am considering a right hook to be a strong possibility. The models have continued to trend to the north so I think this is an increasingly likely scenario, and one that I mentioned earlier this week. At this point I think that Corpus Christi will be safe, so South Texas can breathe a sigh of relief. Evacuations in Texas area underway and Lousiana is largely already empty. For evacuation information see the evacuation info post.
Watches and warnings are in effect all over the Gulf Coast:
From here, eyewall replacement cycles may be the deciding factor in intensity until landfall.
Worth noting is that the water gets progressively less energetic from here, but still paves a path right towards the Texas / Louisiana border. The map below is of Tropical Cyclone Heat Potential.
I have been hoping that the forecast models would continue to bring Rita inland after landfall, but right now that seems unlikely. The forecast models are continuing to stall the hurricane out after landfall. This could create serious flooding problems across the Gulf Coast. Please remember that during the 90s, the leading killer from hurricanes was inland flooding from rain, while before that storm surge had been the leader. Below I attached two maps of forecast rainfall. The first map is as of 2:00pm CDT Sunday and the second is from then until 1:00pm CDT Tuesday.
Please note that these two maps are not cumulative! You must add the values shown to get the total rainfall! This could bring over a foot to many areas, including the New Orleans area. I don't think I need to remind everyone what a foot of rain will do to New Orleans when her pumps are not working at capacity.