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Hurricanes: Science and Society
2005- Hurricane Rita

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Rita triggered one of the largest evacuations in US history.

Hurricane Rita was a very intense Atlantic hurricane that caused significant damage to the U.S. Gulf Coast in September 2005. It formed from a complicated interaction between two different weather systems. A tropical wave moved off the West African coast on September 7, 2005. It failed to organize any noteworthy convection over the Atlantic Ocean until it merged with the active remnants of a cold front north of Puerto Rico ten days later. At that point it began to organize and the new system was declared a tropical depression on 18 September about 113 km (70 mi) east of Grand Turk. The storm intensified into a tropical storm later that day and remained at that strength for two days. On 20 September, Tropical Storm Rita strengthened into a hurricane over the Florida Straits and continued to intensify quite rapidly as it moved into the Gulf of Mexico. Tracking over the very warm waters of the Loop Current and within an environment of very weak vertical wind shear, Hurricane Rita grew from a tropical storm to a powerful Category 5 hurricane in less than 36 hours, with a peak intensity of 286 km/h (178 mph) winds. Due to an eyewall replacement cyccle Rita abruptly weakened to Category 4 strength with 230 km/h (144 mph) maximum winds late on 22 September. Due to increasing southwesterly wind shear and slightly cooler waters, steady weakening continued on 23 September. Hurricane Rita made landfall about 258 km (161 mi) southeast of Sabine Pass at the Texas/Louisiana border, on 24 September as a Category 3 hurricane with winds of 185 km/h (115 mph). Hurricane force winds were sustained more than 240 km (150 mi) inland and tropical storm force winds were felt as far north as the LA-TX-AR border.

Thousands of cars jammed up on a highway
Thousands of individuals evacuate Houston as Hurricane Rita approaches. Source: Public Domain

Although the hurricane weakened prior to and after making landfall, Rita produced a significant storm surge that devastated coastal communities in southwestern Louisiana, and its winds, rain, and tornadoes caused fatalities and a wide swath of damage from eastern Texas to Alabama. An estimated surge of 4.6 m (15 ft) pushed as far inland as 40 km (25 mi) in the low-lying, susceptible communities along the western Louisiana coast. A number of parishes several miles from the coast were completely inundated with up to 3.7 m (12 ft) of water. Some communities in these parishes, notably Cameron Parish, were completely destroyed. The surge also caused a casino boat and several barges to float loose in Lake Charles, travel some 48 km (30 mi) inland, and damage a bridge on Interstate 10. A number of levees along Lake Ponchartrain breached by Hurricane Katrina a month earlier were overtopped once more, producing flooding in already storm-ravaged areas.

Hurricane Rita was responsible for 120 deaths. Some were actually associated evacuation efforts, such as the 23 passengers who died in a bus accident south of Dallas, TX. Total damages resulting from Hurricane Rita amounted to over $10.5 billion (2005 USD), making it the ninth costliest hurricane affecting the United States.

Fast Facts:

  • Hurricane Rita was the 4th most intense Hurricane recorded in the Atlantic Basin with a peak low pressure of 895 mb (hPa). It places behind: Hurricane Wilma (2005, 882 mb), Hurricane Gilbert (1988, 888 mb) and The Labor Day Hurricane (1935, 892 mb).
  • The central pressure in Rita fell a remarkable 70 mb (hPa) in the 24-hour period ending at 12:00 AM 22 September.
  • Following less than a month after Hurricane Katrina devastated the U.S. Gulf Coast, Hurricane Rita was the second hurricane of the season to reach Category 5 status (on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale) in the Gulf of Mexico. This marked the first time on record that two hurricanes reached Category 5 strength in the Gulf of Mexico in the same season. Additionally, it was only the third time that two Category 5 storms formed in the Atlantic Basic in the same year.
  • The approach of Hurricane Rita prompted one of the largest urban evacuations in U.S. history: Texas and Louisiana officials evacuated over 3 million residents. Just under a month after Hurricane Katrina devastated the U.S. Gulf coast, residents were anxious as Hurricane Rita approached the area. The city of New Orleans was again under a mandatory evacuation order as the storm threatened to bring heavy rainfall. Mandatory evacuations also took place in Texas. Highways leading out of the Houston metro area were gridlocked on 22 September and many residents were trapped for over 10 hours in traffic jams as a result of the massive evacuation order. Fortunately, Hurricane Rita did not make landfall in close proximity to either of the cities.


Brown, D., R. Knabb, J. Rhome. “Tropical Cyclone Report: Hurricane Rita 18-26 September 2005.” National Hurricane Center. 17 Mar. 2006. Web.

NOAA- National Climatic Data Center. Hurricane Rita

Hurricane Rita. Wikipedia. 2009. Web.

Roth, David. “Louisiana Hurricane History.” National Weather Service. 2010. Pp. 54-55. Web.

Tropical Weather Summary – 2005 Web Final. National Weather Service. 2007. Web.

NOAA Special Report- Hurricane Wilma