The Progress of Hurricane Rita

Hurricane Rita continues to move across the Gulf of Mexico, and is expected to make landfall early Saturday morning in Texas. Coastal Louisiana, so recently battered by Hurricane Katrina, is also under a hurricane warning as Rita nears.

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IRA FLATOW, host:

From NPR News in New York, this is special coverage, covering Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita. I'm Ira Flatow.

For the second time within a month, the Gulf Coast region is bracing for a fierce hurricane. Hurricane Rita is in the Gulf of Mexico, headed for the Texas coast. Here joining me now is Mark McInerney, a meteorologist with NOAA National Hurricane Center in Miami, Florida.

Welcome to the program.

Mr. MARK McINERNEY (NOAA National Hurricane Center): Yeah. Good afternoon, Ira.

FLATOW: Can you give us an update on Rita?

Mr. McINERNEY: I can. As of 2 PM Eastern time, Ira, it was downgraded to a Category 3. Maximum sustained winds, 125 miles per hour. The direction still the same as it has been for 24 hours, northwest, near 10 miles per hour, and that's continued--expected to continue until landfall.

FLATOW: How big a storm--how wide do those winds go out?

Mr. McINERNEY: Well, the hurricane-force winds from the eye out go 85 miles. From the center out for tropical storm force is 205, so you're talking about 400-plus miles.

FLATOW: Do we know where Rita is expected to make landfall?

Mr. McINERNEY: Well, the best forecast puts the eye, which is where we calculate the landfall, somewhere near High Island, which is north-northeast of Galveston. However, like I said before, don't want folks to focus too much on that because 85 miles out is hurricane force.

FLATOW: Yeah. And 85--where it is now--is there any chance it could strengthen again?

Mr. McINERNEY: Its current location is about a hundred and ninety miles southeast of Galveston, and it is over cooler waters, relatively cooler waters than it had been when it was a Category 5 and 4. So the chances are it's going to stay a Category 3--strong Category 3, but it is really a borderline Category 3-4.

FLATOW: And is it the cooler water, do you say, that caused it to be downgraded?

Mr. McINERNEY: Yeah. That does have a lot to do with it. It's--an analogy that I've heard and I would like to give is it's like a pot of boiling water on a stove. The flame is actually the warmer water and you reduce the flame, the boiling slows down.

FLATOW: Anything to do with the wind shear that might have kicked in also?

Mr. McINERNEY: Yeah. Wind shear is sometimes one of those characteristics that reduces a storm, but in this case, it does appear to be a very strong wind shear.

FLATOW: And have we got a time exactly when we think...

Mr. McINERNEY: For landfall, it looks like about--well, I'd say sunrise or maybe 3:00 and give or take a few hours on Saturday morning.

FLATOW: And you expect it to stay a high Category 3.

Mr. McINERNEY: That's correct.

FLATOW: Has it moved at all? Has it wavered in the last few hours? Do you expect it to possibly change direction?

Mr. McINERNEY: No, it looks like it's been on a pretty steady track. In fact, in comparison to Katrina, this one has a straighter line. It didn't wobble as much.

FLATOW: Because you were pretty accurate in the last forecast.

Mr. McINERNEY: Yeah. I think we...

FLATOW: A little bit of a wobble, but you were pretty good.

Mr. McINERNEY: Yeah. The track forecast we do pretty well. The science does pretty well. It's the intensity that sometimes escapes us a little bit. However, as time marches on, we get better and better.

FLATOW: How do--is there any possibility that New Orleans could get pounded?

Mr. McINERNEY: Well, New Orleans is feeling the effects of the system and just in a different manner. The outer bands, for example, are causing tornadic type activity, and the Storm Prediction Center, which is part of NOAA, had also put up a tornado watch for that area and the local WFO or forecast office had put up a warning, which has expired.

FLATOW: Yeah. There have been reports that once it makes landfall, that Rita may stall somewhere...

Mr. McINERNEY: Yes.

FLATOW: ...over Texas, Oklahoma, giving...

Mr. McINERNEY: Yeah.

FLATOW: ...a lot of rain. Is that still in the forecast or...

Mr. McINERNEY: Yeah, that's correct. In fact, once it stalls, the size of this storm and the amount of water that's contained in it, it's not unlikely to see 8 to 12 inches in some areas. In fact, some areas could see upwards of 20 inches of rain over southeastern Texas or southwestern Louisiana. As--like a sponge, this storm just squeezes out all its water as it stalls over that area.

FLATOW: Yeah. Well, Mark McInerney, thank you very much for taking time to talk with us.

Mr. McINERNEY: Thank you.

FLATOW: Mark McInerney of the National Hurricane Center in Miami, Florida.

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