The Progress of Hurricane Rita
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.