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Key West: mandatory evacuation

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 4:35 PM GMT on September 19, 2005

There's a church in Key West called the St. Mary's Star of the Sea Roman Catholic Church. In 1922, a nun built a "hurricane grotto" on the grounds of the church in memory of the 600 who died during the great Atlantic-Gulf hurricane of Sept. 10, 1919, a Category 4 hurricane that made a direct hit on Key West. The nun vowed that as long as the grotto stood, Key West would not suffer the brunt of another hurricane. Key West residents regularly make pilgrimages to the grotto to pray for protection from hurricanes. And so far, the grotto has worked--no Key West resident has died from a hurricane strike since the 1919 hurricane. I've heard from at least one Key West resident that plans to pay a visit to the grotto today, which I think is a good idea. A little divine intervention is what is needed this Hurricane Season of 2005. The current model runs were apparently not initialized last night with the "grotto factor", since they all show Rita's path taking the storm over or very near Key West. Still, the average error in a 24 hour forecast has been about 60 miles the past 10 years, so Key West may yet miss the brunt of this hurricane.

And a hurricane it will be. Satellite images show that deep convection has now wrapped all the way around the west side of Rita and into the center, where a complete eyewall is starting to form. Spiral bands from the storm are already visible on Miami long-range radar as Rita moves towards Florida and expands in size. Winds at George Town in the Bahama Islands were 37 mph, gusting to 57 mph at noon today. The 12:15 satellite intensity estimate from the University of Wisconsin was 991 mb and 68 mph surface winds. There won't be another hurricane hunter aircraft in the storm until 2pm EDT today, but I think we can anticipate that they will find a continuation of the strengthening trend observed today. Rita will be a hurricane by early this evening, and probably a Category 2 hurricane tomorrow. A 6 - 9 foot storm surge can be expected near and 50 miles to the to the north of where Rita's eye passes, and a foot higher if she hits near high tide (11am Tuesday). The surge plus the wind damage will cause hundreds of millions in damage in the Keys, but should cause no major loss of life, since I'm sure after Katrina residents of low-lying areas under evacuation orders will be compelled to comply more readily than usual. Key West and all of the lower and middle Keys were given a mandatory evacuation order this morning. This is a bit of a risky call by the emergency managers; They'll never get everyone out in time, and risk having people stuck on the bridges when the storm hits. Still, they have a lot of experience evacuating the Keys the past seven years, so hopefully it will go smoothly.

Figure 1. Expected maximum storm surge from Rita.

Rita in the Gulf
Once Rita emerges into the Gulf of Mexico, continued strengthening is expected, and she will likely attain at least Category 3 status by Wednesday. However, water temperatures over the middle of the Gulf of Mexico are 1 - 2C cooler than those near Key West, thanks to all the cold water stirred up by Katrina. This cooler water should not allow Rita to grow as strong as Katrina (not a very bold statement, considering Katrina was the 4th strongest hurricane on record!) Rita will probably grow to a Category 3, and has a chance at Category 4 status if she passes over the Gulf Stream loop current, an eddy of very warm water south of New Orleans near 26N latitude.

Figure 2.Sea Surface temperatures for Sunday, September 18. Note the cooler wake in the center of the Gulf left by Katrina.

Figure 3.Ocean heat potential for Sunday, September 18. The big red spot south at 26N 89W shows where the Gulf Loop Current is, a very deep eddy of warm water that will enhance intensification of Rita if she passes over it.

Where will Rita hit?
Take your pick of today's models runs:

GFDL: Central Louisiana (Houma)
GFS: Western Louisiana (Lake Charles)
UKMET: Eastern Texas (Galveston)
NOGAPS: South Texas (Corpus Christi)

Each set of model runs has moved the track of Rita progressively further east. The official NHC forecast has been following along, but staying further back. What we've seen so far this hurricane season is that when the models start trending this way, that's where the storm eventually winds up going. So my best guess is that Rita will hit Louisiana Friday as a Category 3 hurricane. What's the average error for a 5-day forecast? 270 miles. So, everyone from the Florida Panhandle to the Mexican border is still at risk.

Philippe is slowly strengthening but heading northward out to sea. Philippe will continue to strengthen and head north, and is now not expected to affect any land areas, including Bermuda.

Wave between Africa and the Antilles
A large low pressure system is halfway between Africa and the Antilles islands. While this system does have a surface circulation and considerable deep convection, 15 knots of upper-level wind shear will keep this system from developing into a tropical depression for at least the next two days.

Jeff Masters

The Grotto (2) (Cayogal)
Another view of The Grotto in Key West, Florida...keeping us safe from Hurricanes.
The Grotto (2)

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983. putintang3
1:40 PM GMT on September 21, 2005
Oh and how for out does the feeding bans extend from the eye. Galveston is opx. 700 mile for me.
Member Since: August 29, 2005 Posts: 2 Comments: 311
982. CoconutCreekFLA
3:19 PM GMT on September 20, 2005
Hey all!

I'm in North Broward. Were getting some good thunderstorms and occasional wind gusts but nothing too major. A normal florida storm so far. I'm headed out to the beach to take a look. I'll bring my camera and post some pix when I get back.
981. StormJunkie
6:16 AM GMT on September 20, 2005
Who let wannabe back in? Maybe it could go pet the Blog Police with 88888889g.

Anywho Rita really looks to be getting her act together.

I saw she was a TS still Lefty and thought that you might make it past 11:00 therefore not owing SSIG a 12 pack, but then I saw the SAT.

I'll see those of ya'll that are gonna wait on the 5am update when I get home from work.
Member Since: August 17, 2005 Posts: 26 Comments: 17144
980. azduck
3:32 AM GMT on September 20, 2005
Oh yeah - Canebear - that map shows surge potential and if Rita hits the coast as a strong 3 or 4 of any intensity - get the hell out. Board up and leave. Somebody here said it is better to be inconvenienced and alive than comfortable and dead.

There is a very very low percentage chance of serious harm in Friendswood in anything less than a catastrophic storm. But why chance it if you can leave?
Member Since: September 7, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 57
979. m777
3:15 AM GMT on September 20, 2005
The grotto works I have seen it for myself!! While my husband was stationed there for four years. We had to evacuate for Ivan last year and we were to come back to nothing so we had been told. The rosary was being said by a group of parishioners of St. Mary's as we left for Orlando later that night the storm had moved just enough that Key West was out of danger, same with Charlie we watched him go right by it wasn't pretty actually it was scarey and what was worse knowing it was growing and someone was going to get it. Key West has a halo around it and the grotto does work.I miss the people of Key West and want to return when we can to the same great little island my prayers are with them all!!
978. azduck
3:08 AM GMT on September 20, 2005
Canebear -

I used to live in Clear Lake on Horsepen Bayou.

The main question for you is what is the elevation of your house? If you are under 25ft, you are at risk for surge for a strong CAT4 or CAT5. I'm assuming the creek you describe is Clear Creek ("Clear Lake" is neither clear nor a lake, but an estuary which is really a wide spot in Clear Creek before it goes into the bay). That creek is a direct inlet to Galveston Bay. If a major storm hits on the SW side of Galveston Island to Brazosport, it will bring its surge into the bay and it can be funnelled up Clear Creek.

This happened in 1983 with Alicia, which struck @ San Luis Pass and her surge was highest (12 feet) at Todville Road in Seabrook. That is the mouth of Clear Creek.

Here is the Harris County flood control district's page on Clear Creek:

Clear Creek

My house (Brook Forest & Bay Area Blvd) was at elevation 26 feet and we got about 6 inches of water from Alicia (stormwater and backed-up sewers).

Member Since: September 7, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 57
977. Canebear
2:52 AM GMT on September 20, 2005
Okay guys, I've gotta ask, because I'm starting to get seriously disturbed by this storm. I live in Friendswood (suburb of Houston). I'm about 8 miles from Clear Lake, about 15 miles from inner Galveston Bay, and about 35 miles from West Bay where you cross to Galveston Island. I know it's tough to call, but how safe am I here? Standard brick home, 2 stories, creek that runs into Clear Lake is several streets away and down in a trough. Someone please reassure me! :(
976. MastaSki06
2:40 AM GMT on September 20, 2005

Is there alot of lightning from the feeder bands and do they seem to leave as quickly as they arrived? This is assuming you have had a few thru your area which I'm not certain on but am interested in...

Member Since: September 19, 2005 Posts: 5 Comments: 153
975. code1
2:34 AM GMT on September 20, 2005
Storm and Lefty,
What is up with the panhandle. As I told you a couple days ago, monitoring from my hotel (work) now. Hate for anyone to be hit, but sure don't want it in the panhandle again. Please respond as I have to go to bed, need to be at work about 6:00 am CST. Thanks, maybe I am just a nervous ninny, but you know, we women tend to be that way sometimes!
Member Since: September 18, 2005 Posts: 66 Comments: 13872
974. 8888888889gg
2:33 AM GMT on September 20, 2005
ok evere one evere time you see THEMUFFINMAN on hit spam he is JEFF from the one you all want to banned befor he is back with THEMUFFINMAN and like i said he is JEFF from the one that was banned be fore he want me to not tell you all for some some kind of lol why i do not no but he is JEFF and i have took him off my yahoo im
973. summerbreeze2
2:33 AM GMT on September 20, 2005
New comments out by Dr. Masters
Member Since: August 27, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 6
972. keeywester
2:32 AM GMT on September 20, 2005
Jim Cantore just said he thinks she has an eye.

Time to get some sleep.

971. Califonia
2:31 AM GMT on September 20, 2005

Good to hear from you. Are a lot of people staying? What are their thoughts on how strong the storm will be?

Was a mandatory evacuation issued?
970. rgeer68
2:29 AM GMT on September 20, 2005
Dr. Masters has a new thread
969. Bamaman
2:29 AM GMT on September 20, 2005

Good luck riding that thing out man. Just be smart and safe man. Hopefully we'll see your face around here in a few days, you know if power gets back that quick and all.
968. wxwatcher
2:29 AM GMT on September 20, 2005
No wannabe, you didn't deserve it, I'm having computer problems and I just realized what I did. LoL
967. CoconutCreekFLA
2:29 AM GMT on September 20, 2005

Geez, anyone looking at this? She is exploding in the last couple of frames.
966. Hydrocvl
2:29 AM GMT on September 20, 2005
Several forecasts compare both storms before landfall, and all indicate that Rita can cause much greater damage than Georges.
965. MastaSki06
2:28 AM GMT on September 20, 2005
weatherwannabe I seen that too. That particular cell is about 40 miles north-east of Miami so I wonder what the storms are moving in closer to the center of the storm?
Member Since: September 19, 2005 Posts: 5 Comments: 153
964. johnsonwax
2:27 AM GMT on September 20, 2005
Holy crap. It's raining and lightning here in SoCal. We haven't had rain in 6 months and I don't think we've had lightning in over a year. Woohoo!

I swear this is the most boring place to live but maybe this will offset some of mother nature's need to batter the gulf coast.
963. salter
2:27 AM GMT on September 20, 2005
good luck and stay safe Keeyester
962. lisadelrio
2:26 AM GMT on September 20, 2005
thanks weatherguy.

We always leave - my earliest memory is my family's evacuation from Carla. We went to Schulenberg. So did Carla, I think.
961. stormhank
2:25 AM GMT on September 20, 2005
rita is certainly looking impressive tonite,, I hope she dont turn out to be katrinas long lost sister . wishing she would go due west n not even affect the US
Member Since: September 8, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 1390
960. keeywester
2:25 AM GMT on September 20, 2005
I'll check back from time to time tomorrow as long as I have power to run the DSL. I plan to go out early and check my business one final time.

I think everything is going to be fine here.
959. weatherwannabe
2:25 AM GMT on September 20, 2005
It was cell 'P8'
958. weatherwannabe
2:24 AM GMT on September 20, 2005
wxwatcher I probably deserved it LOL
957. weatherwannabe
2:23 AM GMT on September 20, 2005
That Miami Nexrad had a t-strom listed as moving at 62 knots - um wouldnt that imply that there are a LOT stronger than cat 1 winds near the core of the storm?
955. keeywester
2:22 AM GMT on September 20, 2005
I was not here for Georges. Many of my friends were here and they said it wasn't that bad in KW which was directly in the eye. Big pine key about 20 miles away really took a beating in Georges with a lot of damage from the surge.
953. MastaSki06
2:21 AM GMT on September 20, 2005
Best of luck keyywester, my prayers are with everyone down in the Keys. Keep us posted on your observations and stay safe!
Member Since: September 19, 2005 Posts: 5 Comments: 153
952. ChrisPC24
2:20 AM GMT on September 20, 2005
WFOR Miami just said US 1 North is wide open at least from Islamorada up. If you want to get out, go!
951. sebastianjer
2:20 AM GMT on September 20, 2005
Keywester, how many in your building, how many staying?
Member Since: August 26, 2005 Posts: 1030 Comments: 11197
950. weatherguy03
2:20 AM GMT on September 20, 2005
lisa i would leave if i was you..21 feet is kind of close depending on a 3 vs a 4...i think a 3 you would be ok..but a 4 is cutting it close, so better be safe then sorry...
Member Since: July 5, 2005 Posts: 592 Comments: 29708
948. MastaSki06
2:19 AM GMT on September 20, 2005
That loop from the Bahamas seems to be showing a eye wall...Interesting...The feeder bands are looking bad out of the Miami radar link too....Link
Member Since: September 19, 2005 Posts: 5 Comments: 153
947. turtlehurricane
2:18 AM GMT on September 20, 2005
i ahv updated my blog
Member Since: July 22, 2005 Posts: 227 Comments: 469
2:17 AM GMT on September 20, 2005
keeywester..keep posting your experiences as long as you can. I too loved the info on the shrine
Member Since: July 13, 2005 Posts: 117 Comments: 5226
943. keeywester
2:17 AM GMT on September 20, 2005
I'm just going to ride it out. I'm on the water but in a nice new building....about 30 feetabove the water.
942. southbeachdude
2:16 AM GMT on September 20, 2005
at least 50% of the key west residents evacuated according to cbs news
Member Since: July 29, 2005 Posts: 2 Comments: 699
941. johnsonwax
2:16 AM GMT on September 20, 2005
It's hard to say which would be better - hitting NOLA which is largely empty, though delays recovery at least a month and threatens already weakened structures, or hitting Houston where a big chunk of NOLA residents are and walloping the other testicle of the nations petroleum industry and displacing a whole new set and expanding the recovery effort by a huge amount.

I'm thinking that since most of NOLA is already totaled, just heap on the pain and rebuild one place one time.
940. lisadelrio
2:16 AM GMT on September 20, 2005
well, I'm one of the new posters, but I've been reading this blog since it's been a blog.

I have a question. What will a category 3/4 Rita do to my house if she hits the mouth of the San Bernard river. We live about 15 miles inland on the San Bernard. Our elevation is 21 feet.

We always leave...
938. stormhank
2:16 AM GMT on September 20, 2005
I cant get the CMC model to show past 72 hrs it comes up blank screen on 96 120 hrs??
Member Since: September 8, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 1390
936. 8888888889gg
2:15 AM GMT on September 20, 2005
weatherwannabe you got his e mail and jim in a row boat ah ah that is funny jim in a row boat ah ah but you no they may and the may not send him out there this he needs some time off from the storm do you think?
2:14 AM GMT on September 20, 2005
peff...make that three.

seems a shame when I can get better info for TWC than here, where I used to get the best...chatters please go on and let those who want to read about the storm do so
Member Since: July 13, 2005 Posts: 117 Comments: 5226
934. ChrisPC24
2:14 AM GMT on September 20, 2005
HoustonHound, this Lowe's is right by the coast, near Lake Jackson. He said all thicknesses of plywood are gone there, even 3/8. BTW, I agree; using OSB is just stupid.
933. weatherwannabe
2:14 AM GMT on September 20, 2005
temo = temp

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Dr. Masters co-founded wunderground in 1995. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990. Co-blogging with him: Bob Henson, @bhensonweather

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