Hurricane Rita was one of the most powerful hurricanes in recorded history. Rita's life cycle lasted eight days, and affected the lives of many people, especially residents in East Texas.
The life cycle of the storm began on September 17th, when tropical depression #18 formed near the Turks and Caicos Islands. By September 18th, the depression grew into a tropical storm, with sustained winds of 39 mph and higher. On the morning of September 20th, Rita attained hurricane status, and became the ninth hurricane of the 2005 Atlantic Basin Hurricane season.
As the hurricane moved westward through the Florida Straits, Rita's intensity grew to a category two storm. At this time, the center of the storm was 50 miles south of Key West, Florida. While passing through the Florida Straits, damage caused by Rita was evident through the Florida Keys.
Since the center of Rita was over water, (in between the southern tip of Florida, and north of Cuba) by September 21st, Rita rapidly intensified! Rita grew from a category two hurricane to a powerful category five storm in less than twenty-four hours! Rita became the third most powerful hurricane in recorded history in terms of pressure. The lowest pressure measured from Rita was 897 mb, or 26.94 inches. At that time, Rita was stronger than Hurricane Katrina!
By September 22nd, the maximum sustained winds were 175 mph at the surface. The center of the storm was located 570 miles ESE of Galveston, Texas. Fortunately, by September 23rd, Rita began to weaken, and the intensity was now down to a category three hurricane.
Even though Rita weakened while over the Gulf of Mexico, the storm produced damage to the Louisiana coast, near New Orleans, with a storm surge pounding the sensitive levee system.
On September 24th, around 2:30 a.m., Rita made landfall as a major hurricane just east of the Texas/Louisiana border in Cameron Parish. The landfall was very close to Lake Charles, Louisiana. Hurricane Rita was a category three storm at this time, with sustained winds of 120 mph.
While moving inland along the TX/LA state lines, the storm was still a hurricane. In fact, East Texas experienced hurricane force winds throughout Rita's stop during the early morning hours on September 24th.
Rita was finally downgraded to a tropical storm once reaching Northwestern Louisiana. A few hours later, Rita was downgraded into a tropical depression. The remnants of Rita were carried off by a jet stream disturbance, and pushed the system to the northeast.
For a map of the track of Hurricane Rita, click here.
Much of the information from this story was provided by The National Hurricane Center. The tracking map of Rita is provided by the University of Wisconsin-Madison.