Hurricane Rita has lit fire fire in the Gulf of Mexico. With sustained winds of 165 mph, the Nationa Hurricane Center has upgraded her to a Category 5 storm placing her in the pantheon of monster storms. AP is reporting this afternoon that Rita may well be the strongest storm ever to make landfall in Texas.
As many as 1 million people were ordered to clear out along the Gulf Coast, and hospital and nursing home patients were evacuated Wednesday as Hurricane Rita turned into a Category-5, 165-mph monster that could slam Texas by the weekend and inflict more misery on New Orleans.
Forecasters said Rita could be the most intense hurricane on record ever to hit Texas, and easily one of the most powerful ever to plow into the U.S. mainland. Category 5 is the highest on the scale, and only three Category 5 hurricanes are known to have hit the U.S. mainland — most recently, Andrew, which smashed South Florida in 1992.
All of Galveston, low-lying sections of Houston and Corpus Christi, and a mostly emptied-out New Orleans were under mandatory evacuation orders, one day after Rita sideswiped the Florida Keys as a far weaker storm and caused minor damage.
The latest Advisory (17) has her tacking slightly east again shifting the zone of likely impact just South of Galveston. If memory serves me correctly (from my reading) this could be the same path taken by Isaac's Storm in September of 1900. That condition poses the worst case scenario for this particular geographic area, as the anti-cyclonic action of hurricanes drives the peak storm surge from right to left as the storm approaches. That pushes a wall of water first up onto the seaward side of Galveston's barrier island and well into Galveston Bay into the Houston ship channel. As the storm's eye makes landfall, the winds will shift from east to west, to north to south, then reverse west to east, driving the same wall of water down upon the back side of the island completely submerging the entire city, scouring the surface of all objects, sending them out to sea. The causeways will be submerge and likely destroyed. Ferry service will be severed for days and maybe weeks. Anyone remaining (alive) would be alone and isolated for a good long time.
That's just Galveston. Houston itself and its surrounding metropolitan area constitutes one of the largest cities in America rivaling LA and Chicago. Given the local geography and population density, the devastation potential is nearly unimaginable, even by Katrina standards.
The photos from the Houston Chronicle's Hurricane website, shows a picture full of haunting irony as school buses can be seen in a line seemingly a mile long, ferrying residents to safety from Galveston and adjacent coastal areas. At least local officials are taking this situation seriously. A well-coordinated and competent regional response to this potential catastrophe will surely enhance the speed and efficiency of Federal and private rescue and relief efforts both during and after the storm. It is certain to ensure a swift recovery for the region.
That may be a small consolation for those who are looking at a very rough weekend. Many of them are friends and family. Its hard to be so far away at this time.
Corpus Christi Caller-Times
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Animated Storm Surge Projections