The 7:09 pm eye report from the hurricane hunters found a 904 mb pressure and flight level winds of 161 knots (186 mph). This pressure makes Rita the 3rd strongest Atlantic hurricane of all time. Tonight, Rita will be passing over the Loop Current, a warm eddy of water in the Gulf that aided Katrina's growth to a Category 5 hurricane. Fueled by this pool of deep warm water and an almost ideal upper level wind environment, Rita should continue to intensify until Thursday morning, when she will pass beyond the Loop Current. The eye has shrunk to 20 nm diameter from 25 nm earlier this afternoon. By the time the eye shrinks down to 10 nm, the eyewall will collapse and an eyewall replacement cycle begin, putting an end to this intensification cycle. With potentially another 12 hours to go before this happens, Rita could challenge Gilbert's 888 mb pressure record.
The list of strongest hurricanes of all time now reads:Hurricane Gilbert
(888 mb, 1988)The Great Labor Day Hurricane
(892 mb, 1935)Hurricane Rita
(898 mb, 2005)Hurricane Allen
(899 mb, 1980)Hurricane Katrina
(902 mb, 2005)Hurricane Camille
(905 mb, 1969)
I expect to rewrite this list when the next reconnaissance aircraft reaches Rita about 9pm tonight. How low can Rita go?