Hurricane Rita was the seventeenth named storm, the tenth hurricane, and the fifth major hurricane of the record-breaking and horrific 2005 Atlantic hurricane season. Rita was also the fourth-most intense Atlantic hurricane ever recorded, as well as the most intense tropical cyclone ever observed in the Gulf of Mexico. Rita caused $11.3 billion damage (2005 USD). Rita made landfall on September 24 near the Texas/Louisiana border as a Category 3 hurricane with 115-120 mph maximum sustained winds. After landfall, Rita continued through parts of southeastern Texas. Also, Rita produced storm surge, which caused extensive damage along the Louisiana (especially Louisiana) and the extreme southeastern Texas coasts, completely destroying some coastal communities. Rita killed 7 people directly; many other people died in evacuations in anticipation of the hurricane, and from indirect effects.
|Formation||September 17, 2005|
|Dissipation||September 26, 2005|
|Highest winds||180 mph|
|Lowest pressure||895 mbar|
|Deaths||7 direct, 113 indirect|
|Damages||$11.3 billion (2005 USD)|
|Areas affected||Bahamas, Florida, Cuba, Yucatan Peninsula, Mississippi Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas|
Rita formed at the tail end of a frontal boundary, where convection, as well as a low-level circulation around an upper-level low developed steadily for two days. A surface low-pressure area then developed near the disturbance, and the disturbed area of weather quickly became Tropical Depression Eighteen, while east of the Turks & Caicos Islands. After becoming a depression, less than a day later, it strengthened into Tropical Storm Rita, becoming the seventeenth named storm of the season. After becoming a tropical storm, a mandatory evacuation was ordered for the entire Florida Keys. Despite becoming a tropical storm, Rita was slow to become a hurricane. However, on September 20, the National Hurricane Center estimated that Rita's maximum sustained winds were 75 mph, which meant that they thought it was a Category 1 hurricane. Despite this estimation, Rita lacked a complete eyewall, and forecasters identified Rita with 70 mph winds overnight. Aircraft observations that were released at 9:45 AM EDT indicated that Rita had a closed eyewall, and had definitely become a hurricane. Four hours later, the NHC put Rita as a Category 2 hurricane with 100 mph winds. Rita's center passed south of the Florida Keys as a Category 2 hurricane, bringing mild but no significant impact to the Florida Keys. It then moved into the warm Gulf of Mexico waters that were 1°F above average, and those waters favored intensification of the hurricane.
As Rita entered the Gulf of Mexico, rapid intensification began. Each National Hurricane Center advisory issued every three hours showed strengthening from 5:00 PM EDT on September 20 to 11:00 AM EDT on September 21, with Rita's maximum sustained winds increasing to 140 mph, making it a Category 4 hurricane. After this, Rita continued to gain strength, with an update at 2:15 PM CDT stating that Rita's maximum sustained winds had increased to 150 mph. At this point, Rita's minimum central pressure was 920 mbar. At 3:55 PM CDT, less than two hours later, another update stated that Rita had become a Category 5 hurricane, with maximum sustained winds at an incredible 165 mph. At 6:50 PM CDT, a reconnaissance aircraft recorded pressure of 899 mbar away from the center of Rita; the actual pressure was thought to be lower still. At 10:00 PM CDT, Rita reached its peak intensity as a Category 5 hurricane with 180 mph winds. Operationally, it was thought that Rita had peaked as a 175 mph Category 5 hurricane, although post-season analysis confirmed the upgrade. Also, when it reached 180 mph winds, Rita's minimum central pressure fell to an incredible 895 mbar.
Rita's rapid intensification might can be attributed to the Loop Current, a warm eddy of water over the Gulf of Mexico each year, that was likely 1-2°F warmer than the rest of the Gulf of Mexico. Also, Lt. Colonel Warren Madden, both a hurricane hunter and meteorologist for The Weather Channel recorded a wind gust of 235 mph when he flew into Rita, and called it the "strongest storm that I've ever been in." Because of Rita's strong winds and high waves, several buoy-based weather stations were disabled or destroyed. Due to an eyewall replacement cycle, Rita weakened before landfall to a Category 3 hurricane with 115-120 mph winds, making landfall between Sabine Pass, Texas, and Johnson's Bayou, Louisiana at 2:38 AM CDT on September 24 (the weakening can also be attributed to potentially cooler water upwelled by Katrina earlier in the season, or due to dry air over land). After making landfall, Rita weakened to a tropical storm, then to a tropical depression, both weakening phases occuring the same day of landfall. After that, Rita's remnants moved quickly out of the Mississippi Valley and were absorbed by a cold front. The Hydrometeorological Prediction Center stopped issuing advisories on Rita early on September 26.
In Louisiana, Ray Nagin, the mayor of New Orleans, had planned to reopen the city of New Orleans on September 19. However, when Rita began to develop in the Gulf of Mexico, the mayor quickly cancelled the reopening of the city. On September 21, another evacuation for the city of New Orleans was issued, as Rita was initially forecast to make landfall much closer to New Orleans than it ultimately did. Also, even though Rita stayed well to the south and west of the city of New Orleans, it caused a pre-landfall storm surge to break a levee protecting the lower 9th Ward. When Rita made landfall, more parts of the levee wall were breached, which caused major reflooding of the city. A month earlier, the original breaches occured, because of the catastrophic Hurricane Katrina.
Also, residents of Cameron Parish, Calcasieu Parish, and parts of Jefferson Davis Parish, Acadia Parish, Iberia Parish, and Vermillion Parish, were told to evacuate, due to the threat of Rita in the state.
Evacuees on Interstate 45 evacuating from Houston on September 21, 2005
In Texas, governor Rick Perry recalled all emergency personnel, which included almost all of the 1,200 Texas National Guard from Katrina recovery efforts, due to the threat of Rita in the state. On September 22, Perry, as well as the Texas Department of Transportation implemented a contraflow lane reversal on Interstate 45 northward towards the city of Dallas, on Interstate 10, west towards San Antonio, and U.S. Highway 290 northwest to Austin. Also, officials in Galveston County ordered a mandatory evacuation on September 21 at 6:00 PM CDT, in an event that set different zones in the area, which were due to leave at different times over the course of 24 hours, well in advance of Rita's potential landfall in the state, but not enough to ensure that everyone could safely evacuate in advance of the storm. This evacuation was likely issued because Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast less than a month earlier, and because of the catastrophic Galveston Hurricane of 1900, which devastated Galveston County.
Despite the evacuation order, many residents stayed in Galveston County, due to some people being unaware of the danger of the storm, or because they wanted to protect their belongings, after seeing the looting following Katrina. The evacuation included moving all inpatients from the University of Texas Medical Branch to other hospitals in the region. In all, 31 patients, including two that were on ventilators, were prisoners under the ward of the Texas Department of Corrections. These patients were systematically transferred to the University of Texas Health Center in the city of Tyler. Also, officials in Harris County were hoping that the designation of zones A, B, and C would be able to prevent bottlenecks from leaving the area, such as the ones that were seen out of New Orleans prior to Dennis and Katrina that same year.
Different zones were also to be forced to go to certain cities in the state of Texas, and were not allowed to exit their designated routes except for food and gas. The cities the zones evacuated to were: College Station, Dallas, San Antonio, Lufkin, Huntsville, and Austin. On Wednesday, the mayor of Houston, Bill White, urged residents to evacuate the city, stating "Don't wait; the time for waiting is over", and he also reminded residents of the disaster in New Orleans brought by Katrina less than a month earlier. Once extreme traffic blocked passage out of the city and gas shortages left numerous vehicles stranded, he backed off his earlier statement, then stating "If you're not in the evacuation zone, follow the news", and he also advised people to use common sense. By 3:00 PM that afternoon, however, the freeway system in Houston was at a stand-still.
To the east of the city of Houston, officials had set up evacuation routes in response to the slow evacuation of residents prior to Hurricane Lili in 2002 Atlantic hurricane season. During the evacuation of Hurricane Rita, these preparations and their execution were overwhelmed thanks to the enormous, as well as unprecedented number of people evacuating from the Houston area prior to the local residents. By the time Jefferson County began evacuating people, local roads were already full of residents from Houston. Also, designated evacuation routes slowed down to a pace far worse than with any other hurricane in recorded history. By late Thursday morning, the contraflow lanes had been order after it was determined that the state's highway system had become gridlocked.
The Texas Department of Transportation was unprepared to intiate such a large-scale evacuation order. Coordination and implementation of the contraflow plan took 8 to 10 hours, because inbound traffic was forced to exit and police were assigned to assist with the traffic flow. From Wednesday afternoon through mid-day Friday, evacuees fought traffic, moving only a fraction of the distance that traffic would normally move. The traffic was so treacherous, that average travel time to Dallas was 24-36 hours, travel times to Austin were 12-18 hours, and travel times to San Antonio were 10-16 hours, depending on the point of departure in the city of Houston. Also, many motorists ran out of gas, or they experienced breakdowns in the record-high temperatures that were near 100°F (38°C). Also, traffic volumes did not ease for nearly 48 hours, since nearly 3,000,000 residents evacuated the area in advance of Rita. This is the largest evacuation in the history of the United States.
Also, as part of the evacuation, Johnson Space Center in Houston handed control of the International Space Station to their Russian counterparts. Also, concerns were raised over the state of the oil industry in response to Rita. Rita threatened a large amount of oil infrastructure that was left undamaged by Hurricane Katrina earlier in the year. The Texas Gulf Coast is home to 23% of the United States oil capacity, and numerous offshore production platforms were in the path of the monstrous hurricane. Even though no potential storm path would threaten all of the oil capacity at once, a direct strike on the city of Houston could disable up to 8% of the United States' refining capacity. Valero Energy Corp, the United States' largest refiner, said on September 21 that Rita could have caused gas prices to rise well above $3.00 (USD) per US gallon.
In some areas, Rita's effects were not nearly as severe as they were originally anticipated to be. The catastrophic storm surge that was feared in the city of Galveston and Houston was found further east, as Rita made landfall well to the east of those two cities. Since winds were blowing offshore in Texas, the surge was actually flattened. The surge only reached about 7 feet, well below the height of the Galveston seawall. Also, there was 5 inches of rain expected to fall in New Orleans overnight, but that did not happen with Rita, either, with the pressure on the levee system also eased. However, a catastrophic storm surge of 15-20 feet affected southwestern Louisiana, with coastal parishes experiencing extensive damage. In Cameron Parish, the cities of Hackberry, Cameron, and Holly Beach were virtually destroyed. In Calcasieu Parish the cities of Lake Charles, Sulphur, Moss Bluff, Westlake, and Vinton also experienced significant damage.
It is estimated that well over 2,000,000 people in total lost power from Rita. Total damage from Rita is estimated to be $10,000,000,000, making Rita the 9th costliest storm in the history of the United States. Also, following Rita, gas prices fell instead of rose, as was originally feared.
Also, Rita caused 120 deaths in total, though only seven of those were direct deaths. One death was caused by a tornado in Rita's outer bands, one was because of storm surge flooding, and three others were caused by trees blown down in the storm. The other two direct deaths were caused by rip currents in the Florida Panhandle, due to Rita's distant waves.
Southern Florida and Cuba
More than 340,000 people were under either voluntary or mandatory evacuation orders in Cuba and Florida, due to the threat of Rita. Storm surge flooding was reported along the low-lying areas of the Florida Keys. The Overseas Highway (U.S. 1) connecting the islands was flooded, as well as impassable in some sections. When 8:00 PM EDT rolled around on September 20, about 25,000 customers in Broward and Miami-Dade Counties were without power, and about 2,100 customers were without power in the Florida Keys, as Rita passed south of the Florida Keys. Also, Florida Governor Jeb Bush declared a state of emergency, and President George W. Bush declared a federal emergency in 4 counties; Broward, Collier, Miami-Dade, and Monroe. Also, more than 2,000 National Guard troops, as well as dozens of law enforcement officers were brought in. No deaths were reported in Florida or Cuba from Rita's initial impact. Also, the impact in Cuba is not known, though it was likely extremely minimal.
Although land impacts were pretty much nonexistant in the Florida Panhandle, since Rita stayed well to the south, two people died on the beach due to high surf and rip currents caused by Rita's distant waves.
In Mississippi, Rita's outer rainbands spawned several tornadoes in the state. At least 40 homes, as well as an industrial plant, were damaged. Also, in Humphreys County, one man was killed, due to Rita's effects. Also, another unconfirmed tornado in Bolivar County was reported. One death was also reported in Wilkinson County, though it has not been confirmed if that was a storm-related death or not. A tornado also touched down on Mississippi State University's campus, with MSU officials reporting significant damage to some buildings due to the tornado. Also, numerous mobile homes were damaged at the University Hills trailer park, located just off the campus of MSU. Several people suffered non-life threatening injuries from the tornado. Also, in Lauderdale County, there were several confirmed and unconfirmed tornado touchdowns, both in and near the cities of Marion and Meridian.
Storm surge damage from Rita.
In Louisiana, New Orleans's levee system had already suffered significant damage, thanks to Hurricane Katrina earlier in the year. On September 23, the day before Rita's landfall, rising water due to Rita poured through the levee breaches in the Industrial Canal levee in the 9th Ward (with the levee being patched up before the hurricane), as reported by the Army Corps of Engineers. Also, water entered the Ninth Ward over 32-foot wide patches in the levee, when 9:00 AM CDT on September 23 rolled around. Also, water in the Ninth Ward was reported to be about waist deep at 11:00 AM on Friday, September 23. When 5:00 PM CDT had rolled around on September 23, water had begun rushing through another patch in the London Avenue Canal, and into the surrounding Gentilly neighborhood. Also, some pumping stations were abandoned. By the evening of Saturday, September 24, water from a 150-foot gap in the Industrial Canal levee flooded some areas of the Ninth Ward to 8 feet deep in water.
In southwestern Louisiana, near where Rita made landfall, damage was extensive. In Cameron Parish, the communities of Hackberry, Creole, Cameron, Holly Beach, Johnsons Bayou, and Grand Chenier were either heavily damaged or destroyed. Also, a casino boat and several barges were floating loose in Lake Charles. Because of that, a bridge spanning Interstate 10 across the Calcasieu River was damaged. Also, Lake Charles received significant flooding from Rita, with water rise reports of 6-8 feet in areas around the lake itself. Water was reported to be up to the second floor at a hotel on the Contraband Bayou, with extensive damage to its original airport, as well. Finally, damage to the city's electrical system was severe enough that authorities warned that power may not be restored for two weeks or more.
In Vinton, several fires burned. The roof was torn off of the recreational center and also, many homes were damaged by fallen trees. In coastal parishes of Louisiana, widespread flooding was reported. In Terrebonne Parish, virtually every levee was breached as a result of Hurricane Rita's impact on the state of Louisiana. Also, some people were stranded in flooded communities, and had to be rescued by boat, with at least 100 people being rescued from rooftops, as at least 25 more remained stranded. Also, the governor of Louisiana, Kathleen Blanco, reported that 700,000 homes lost power in 41 parishes of the state; the state has 64 parishes in total. In Vermilion Parish, south of the city of Abbeville, rescue efforts were taken for up to 1,000 people that were stranded by localized flooding. On September 24, 250 people were rescued.
When Rita was downgraded to a tropical storm, it entered the parishes of DeSoto and Caddo, with the eye passing just west of the city of Shreveport, located in northwestern Louisiana, before passing into the Arkansas border. In Shreveport, their second lowest pressure was recorded, at 983.7 mb, or 29.05 inches, with the lowest pressure recorded being 29.04 inches, all the way back on February 27, 1902. At the height of the storm, over 175,000 people had lost power in the National Weather Service forecast area in Shreveport, mainly across Deep East Texas and northwestern Louisiana. Also, two fatalities occured in the Ark-La-Tex region. A tree fell on one person, causing a fatality, and the other fatality occured when a teenager was picking up a hot power line.
Damage in Shreveport, Louisiana from Rita.
On September 23, 23 people were killed when a bus housing 45 nursing home evacuees from Brighton Garden to Bellaire erupted into flames and exploded on Interstate 45 in the city of Wilmer, located to the southeast of the city of Dallas. The fire in the bus started in the brake system, and also, the passengers' therapeutic oxygen tanks could've contributed to the bus's exploding. Since many of the passengers were mobility-impared, getting out of the bus was extremely difficult, or perhaps impossible. Also, in the late evening of September 23, a fire broke out in the Strand District, located in Galveston, which gutted several homes. Thankfully, the fire department was able to fight the fire that was being whipped by the winds from Rita's outer rainbands, which prevented the fire from spreading further into the city. Also, no serious injuries were reported because of the fire. Around midnight on September 24, a vacant restauraunt that was nearby collapsed. Reportedly, this was the result of the fire that weakened the walls.
Also, Houston, for the most part, escaped any significant damage from the hurricane, though it did experience power outages in association with the storm. Had Rita passed near Galveston or directly over Houston, as 1983's Hurricane Alicia did, damage could've been catastrophic, similar to that seen in New Orleans with Katrina earlier in the year. Some windows were blown out of the downtown skyscrapers, and some trees and signals were down. Also, 31 deaths were reported in Harris County, where the city of Houston is located, although they were all indirect deaths, mostly associated with evacuation and cleanup. Also, north of Houston, the 2.5 mile-wide Lake Livingston dam suffered significant damage, due to extreme waves produced by Rita's intense winds. This prompted officials to start an emergency release of water to lessen the pressure on the dam.
On September 25, a number of news outlets reported that the discharge of water put people's lives at risk downstream, and threatened a major bridge, due to a sizable barge coming adrift, with repairs to the dam expected to take months to complete. Once the water levels were lowered, an inspection was conducted by both national and local experts, with the dam being declared stable late on September 26. Also, the cities of Beaumont, Port Arthur, and Orange suffered significant wind damage from Rita, with Texas Governor Rick Perry declaring 9 counties a disaster area, allowing residents to apply for federal aid. In Beamount, an estimated 25% of the trees in heavily wooded neighborhoods of the city were uprooted by Rita's fierce winds.
Also, in the city of Groves, an equal amount of pecan trees were uprooted by Rita's strong winds. Also, a large amount of homes and businesses suffered significant damage from wind and falling trees. Also, the water treatment plant in Port Neches was heavily damaged by the hurricane, with some areas not having power for more than six weeks after the hurricane passed. Also, a mandatory evacuation had been issued before Rita made landfall. People who were displaced by Rita were offered 60 days in hotel rooms, as well as offered generators, chainsaws, and monetary assistance from FEMA. Also, the Golden Triangle region of southeast Texas was spared significant storm surge, due to Rita's more eastward motion before landfall, as well as the left-front quadrant affecting the area, with Rita's storm surge being collected by Port Arthur's levee system. Also, Bolivar Peninsula, located between Galveston and Sabine Pass only experienced minor storm surge from Rita.
Damage to a church in Beamount.
In Arkansas, Rita's outer rainbands spawned tornadoes, even though Rita was a tropical depression over Arkansas. One tornado was included in Conway County, with another one in Lonoke County. These tornadoes damaged many homes and businesses in several cities in those two counties. Also, significant flooding was reported in several areas of the state, due to Rita. Also, the tornadoes that Rita spawned in the state moved in an unusually northwestward motion, with most tornadoes moving to the northeast. This motion was because of the way Rita was moving. There were no deaths reported in Arkansas in association with Rita.
Naming and Records
When Rita became a tropical storm on September 17, it was the earliest in an Atlantic hurricane season that the seventeenth storm had formed. There were several typhoons in the West Pacific that had been given the name Rita. However, this was the first time an Atlantic hurricane had been named Rita.
Other Records Set by Rita
- Greatest one-hour pressure drop in the Atlantic basin
- Fourth most-intense storm in the Atlantic basin
- Most intense hurricane ever recorded in the Gulf of Mexico, beating the previous record held by Hurricane Katrina less than a month eariler
Due to its extensive damage it caused, the name Rita was retired by the World Meteorological Organization in the Spring of 2006. It was replaced by Rina for the 2011 Atlantic hurricane season.