Hurricane Rita is now the featured storm from the 2005 record-breaking Atlantic season. She was the third Category 5 hurricane of the season, producing an estimated $10 billion in damage across the southern United States.
Less than a month after Katrina had hit the central Gulf region, Rita was in the works. On September 16th, 2005 a tropical wave interacted with the remains of a trough from a dissipating stationary front. This was her beginning. The next day, near the Turks and Caicos Islands, this interaction turned into a tropical depression.
The depression started moving westward and Tropical Storm Rita was named that afternoon. Rita began a rapid intensification phase when she moved through the Florida Straits on September 20th, with a wind speed of over 60 knots. That day she reached hurricane status and peaked at Category 2 intensity on the Saffir-Simpson scale. When Rita entered the Gulf she went from a Category 2 to Category 5 intensity in just 24 hours. This was only the third time in history that two Category 5 storms had been recorded forming in the Atlantic during the same year, and it was the first time that two hurricanes reached Category 5 intensity in the Gulf of Mexico in the same year. Rita reached her peak intensity on September 24th when her sustained winds exceeded 155 knots.
Rita began weakening as she made landfall just east of the Texas/Louisiana border on September 24th. She was still at tropical storm intensity when she reached northwestern Louisiana later that day, turning northeastern and merging with a frontal system. She produced torrential rainfall of as much as 5 to 9 inches in many areas of Louisiana, Mississippi, and eastern Texas. Storm surge flooding and wind damage were some of the major causes of the devastating damage Rita left behind, along with an estimated 90 tornadoes across the southern US.
Rita was definitely a memorable one. Luckily, with forecasters being on alert, they evacuated an estimated 3 million people from their homes in preparation for the storm. Of course, with Katrina only being in the recent past, no one was prepared for the damage Rita would cause. She was directly responsible for seven deaths, and indirectly responsible for 113.
Go to Cyclone Center today to start classifying Rita. She was a historic, one-of-a-kind storm. To learn more about her, you can go to US National Hurricane Center tropical cyclone report for Rita.
– Kelly Dobeck is an undergraduate student in Atmospheric Sciences at the University of North Carolina at Asheville. She recently joined the Cyclone Center team as a classifier and contributor to our social media.