The latest runs of two key computer models, the GFS and GFDL, now indicate that the trough of low pressure that was expected to pick up Rita and pull her rapidly northward through Texas will not be strong enough to do so. Instead, these models forecast that Rita will make landfall near Galveston, penetrate inland between 50 and 200 miles, then slowly drift southwestward for nearly two days, as a high pressure ridge will build in to her north. Finally, a second trough is forecast to lift Rita out of Texas on Tuesday. If this scenario develops, not only will the coast receive catastrophic damage from the storm surge, but interior Texas, including the Dallas/Fort Worth area, might see a deluge of 15 - 30 inches of rain. A huge portion of Texas would be a disaster area. We'll have to wait for the next set of model runs due out by tomorrow morning to know better.
The 7:09 pm eye report from the hurricane hunters found a 897 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
(897 mb, 2005)Hurricane Allen
(899 mb, 1980)Hurricane Katrina
(902 mb, 2005)Hurricane Camille
(905 mb, 1969)
How low can Rita go?