It's not official, but it soon will be--Rita is a hurricane. The latest satellite imagery shows a huge and expanding burst of deep convection with very cold cloud tops near the center. The latest UW-CIMSS
satellite intensity estimate puts Rita as a 80 mph hurricane with a 982 mb central pressure. Radar imagery from Camaguey, Cuba
shows a partially formed elliptical eyewall, open to the north. Long range Miami radar
shows a large and expanding area of radar echoes approaching Florida. Tropical storm force winds have moved outward from 105 miles from the center at 5pm, to 120 miles at 11pm. Rita is a large, impressive Category 1 hurricane, and growing stronger and larger by the hour. The lower Keys are in for a nasty pounding. This may equal or exceed the most damaging hurricane ever in Key West, which I believe was Category 2 Hurricane Georges
in 1998, which brought a 4 - 6 foot storm surge and Category 1 winds to the lower Keys, causing $340 million in damage. Expect roof and moderate structural damage to homes and businesses from Rita. Hundred of mobile homes will be damaged or destroyed. Large trees and power poles will be toppled. Damage will be at least $1 billion, which will largely be uninsured losses, since many insurance companies won't insure propery in the Keys.Where will Rita hit?
Take your pick from today's latest model runs:
GFS: TX/LA border
NOGAPS: Brownsville, TX
So, the model trend that had taken Rita towards landfall in western Louisiana has now reversed, to Texas' detriment. Tune in tomorrow morning, the NOAA jet is flying its first mission in Rita, a high-altitude synoptic surveilance mission tonight that should greatly aid the model predictions that will be complete in the morning. I won't start believing the models until I see some runs with the NOAA jet data initializing them.