It was ten years ago when many East Texans were full of fear and anxiety as Hurricane Rita made landfall along the Texas/Louisiana state line, near Sabine Pass during the pre-dawn hours of September 24, 2005. She made landfall as a major, category three hurricane, with sustained winds of 120 mph.
The nerves, however, were felt long before Rita made landfall. On September 21, 2005, just three days before making landfall, Rita briefly strengthened into a category five hurricane in the south central Gulf of Mexico, with sustained winds of 180 mph. It was at this time that the barometric pressure dropped all the way down to 897 millibars, or 26.43 inches of mercury, making it the lowest observed pressure ever recorded in the Gulf of Mexico and the fourth lowest pressure observed in the Atlantic Basin.
Thankfully, Hurricane Rita weakened to a category three hurricane before making landfall as some higher wind shear and cooler waters helped weaken the storm by two categories.
One of the biggest things I took away from Rita was the mass chaos from residents evacuating inland along the upper Texas and southern Louisiana coastlines. Roadways were clogged up as many people, even one’s that resided well inland, decided to load up and evacuate from the approaching storm.
One of the biggest reasons why there were so many evacuees was due to the fact this came on the heels of Hurricane Katrina, which did so much destruction and devastation nearly a month earlier in southern Louisiana and southern Mississippi.
I can vividly remember the scenes of bumper-to-bumper traffic on Highways 59 and 69 just a couple of days before the storm, as evacuees made their way into our part of the state. Despite the gridlock, there were so many lessons learned from Rita that really paid dividends when Hurricane Ike impacted us three years later in September of 2008.
When Hurricane Rita made landfall on Saturday morning on September 24, 2005, she quickly accelerated northward, moving through Beaumont, Woodville, and near the communities of San Augustine, Hemphill, and Center in Deep East Texas.
Rita quickly weakened into a tropical storm just twelve hours after landfall, but not before knocking out power to thousands of East Texans as a result of the hurricane force wind gusts. The damaging winds were felt areawide, even though the center of the storm tracked east of the Highway 59 corridor.
One thing that is noteworthy is the fact that Rita did not produce much rain as she made here trek through the Piney Woods. This was in large part due to the fast movement of the storm as she accelerated once she moved inland. The other factor that limited rainfall was a result of being on the backside of the circulation. That left quadrant of a storm usually leads to sinking air, which is why it got so hot in the days after her departure from the region.
As Rita moved through the Ark latex and into the Mississippi River Valley, we had so much sinking air that it created a heat wave for late September. Many areas in east and southeast Texas endured triple digit heat in the storm’s wake, which was a double whammy, considering many were left without power for weeks.
Hurricane Rita was one of seven major hurricanes to form in the Atlantic basin that 2005 season, which was and still is a record for the most number of major hurricanes to form in a given year. Of those seven major hurricanes (defined as category three strength or stronger), five became category four storms, and four storms became category five hurricanes, the strongest intensity on the Saffir-Simpson wind scale.
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