Sep
22
2005

The Science of Hurricane Rita

Just on the heels of the deadly Hurricane Katrina, Rita hit the gulf coast with 120mph winds. The storm grew to enormous force out at sea with winds in excess of 155mph but then slowed down some as it came inland.

UPDATE

It appears that Rita has caused flooding in New Orleans. Water is pouring over the levees in the lowest lying part of the city.

Is New Orleans in danger also?

The hurricane is came on shore near Lake Charles, TX which is very close to the Louisiana border and about a 5 hour drive to New Orleans. But the storm is was so big that the storm surge was easily able to top some of New Orleans' fragile levees. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said that after Hurricane Katrina, the levees could handle only 6 inches of rain and a storm surge of 10-12 feet.

Watch the waters rise

As the hurricane comes ashore, it will push massive amounts of water inland, causing a "storm surge." To watch the water rise in real-time, check out the Texas USGS stream-flow gauges. The gauge near Freeport is likely to show an effect (depending on where the storm hits). These gauges measure the water level in streams and rivers in real-time. Watch for a huge increase as the hurricane moves inland.

Get to higher ground

Right now, more than 1.3 million people are under mandatory evacuation orders. Texas Governor Rick Perry, having learned Katrina's lessons, is preparing the state for a worst-case scenario. President Bush has declared states of emergency in Texas and Louisiana, allowing FEMA to coordinate plans, and workers at the South Texas Project nuclear power plant are shutting the facility down before Rita arrives.

And watch for rising gas prices. The threatened oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico produce more than 25% of total U.S. oil output.

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

Liza's picture
Liza says:

Evacuees from coastal Texas are finding themselves stuck in a hundred-mile traffic jam. Some people are idling for so long that they're running out of gas, and others are actually pushing their cars to conserve what gas they have. Texas Governor Rick Perry has dispatched gasoline tankers to help stranded drivers along the main evacuation routes.

posted on Thu, 09/22/2005 - 4:22pm
Liza's picture
Liza says:

Here you can see USGS stream-gauge data for sites near Corpus Christi and Houston, TX.

As the hurricane comes inland, you should be able to see a spike on the graphs.

posted on Fri, 09/23/2005 - 3:59pm
Liza's picture
Liza says:

In just 30 hours, Hurricane Rita jumped from a tropical storm to a Category 5 screamer. One reason is that Rita, like Katrina before her, hit the Loop Current--the perfect source of hurricane fuel.

Hurricanes form over tropical waters, in areas of high humidity, light winds, and warm sea surface temperatures. The Loop Current is an annual 100-mile stretch of 82 degree water 300 feet deep between the Florida Keys and the mouth of the Mississippi River. (Normally, warm water isn't much deeper than 125 feet.)

Lots of hurricanes cross the Loop Current, intensifying while they're over it, and then weakening again when they get back over cooler water. But both Katrina and Rita have followed the current instead of wandering back and forth over it. The abundance of warm water is fueling the huge storms.

This is the first hurricane season on record when two Category 5 storms have crossed the Gulf of Mexico and headed for the U.S. coast.

UPDATE (9/27/05) Here's a New York Times article about the Loop Current. It has a good illustration showing just how the Loop Current intensified both Katrina and Rita.

posted on Fri, 09/23/2005 - 4:15pm
Liza's picture
Liza says:

satellite photos

posted on Fri, 09/23/2005 - 4:25pm
Liza's picture
Liza says:

Here's an animation of rainfall data as measured by NASA's Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission spacecraft at 12:52 pm EDT. (Be patient; the animation takes a minute to load.) Instruments on board the spacecraft are able to "look" underneath the storm's clouds and see the underlying rain structure. Blue represents areas with at least 0.25 inches of rain per hour. Green shows at least 0.5 inches of rain per hour. Yellow is at least 1.0 inches of rain and red is at least 2.0 inches of rain per hour.

posted on Fri, 09/23/2005 - 4:36pm
Liza's picture
Liza says:

This simulated view of the potential effects of storm surge flooding on Galveston and portions of south Houston was generated with data from NASA's Shuttle Radar Topography Mission. The island of Galveston is protected against storm surges by a 17-foot sea wall, but flooding caused by a major hurricane is still a real danger. The animation shows regions that, if unprotected, could be inundated with water.

posted on Fri, 09/23/2005 - 4:42pm
Liza's picture
Liza says:

A hurricane starts out as a cluster of storms that begins to rotate when it runs into converging winds. The storms create rough seas, putting more water vapor into the atmosphere. The water vapor rises very quickly, rotating with the storms and helping to increase their wind speed. The storms begin to organize, spinning together around a center rotation point of low pressure. When this occurs, and sustained wind speeds reach 74 miles per hour, the storm has become a hurricane.

This animation shows how hurricanes form.

posted on Fri, 09/23/2005 - 4:45pm
RussD's picture
RussD says:

The most fascinating aspect of hurricane physics is the feedback mechanism that forms once it gets going.

Once the low pressure system grows to a tropical storm, something really interesting happens. Condensation of clouds from water vapor produces huge amounts of heat. This is called "latent heat" release. It comes from the energy that evaporated the water vapor in the first place. Think of a pot of hot water boiling into vapor. When you condense that same water out again, you get a release of a lot of that stored energy in the form of heat. In a storm this burst of energy makes the cloud grow.

In a hurricane, this happens on a huge scale forcing air upward around a central core (the eye). All that rising air creates low pressure near the surface. Which in turn sucks in MORE air from the surrounding water. If the water is warm, like in the gulf, you get an more water vapor moving into the center of the storm and it get sucked up into the updrafts of the hurricane. All that new water vapor condenses and releases more latent heat and the process starts all over again. It is an amazing feedback.

As long as the hurricane has warm water to fuel itself, this process will continue and the hurricane will continue to grow.

The storm surge is caused by the strong low pressure center near the surface...it actually sucks the ocean UPWARD creating a small hill of water that moves along with the storm!

Here is some additional information about hurricane formation from the University of Illinois.

An adaptation of this same information is available here as well.

Russ
Meteorologist

posted on Sat, 09/24/2005 - 5:04pm
Liza's picture
Liza says:

Hey, Russ:

It makes sense to me that the partial vacuum caused by the hurricane would create the storm surge, but the folks at NOAA's Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory, Hurricane Research Division, say no.

They say that it's the wind pushing the ocean surface ahead of the storm that creates the surge.

posted on Tue, 09/27/2005 - 12:40pm
RussD's picture
RussD says:

Perhaps the thinking on this is changing as there is some disagreement, but my alma mater says pressure is the leading source and waves are secondary.

If I get the chance I can look into this a bit further and see what the latest thinking is.

Russ

posted on Tue, 09/27/2005 - 3:17pm
Liza's picture
Liza says:

Guess we weren't the only ones wondering, because researchers at Florida State University are trying to create new models of storm surges so they can better predict their sizes and paths. They plan to use an experimental version of their model to try forecasting during next year's hurricane season.

posted on Fri, 12/02/2005 - 11:13am
Liza's picture
Liza says:

Hurricane trackers are now predicting that Rita will come ashore near the Texas/Louisiana border. Beaufort and Port Arthur, Texas, are expecting a 20-foot storm surge and 25 inches of rain, and might be flooded for up to a week.

But the danger is more than just the misery of high winds and water; Beaufort and Port Arthur are home to many of the nation's oil refineries and chemical plants.

posted on Fri, 09/23/2005 - 11:18pm
Liza's picture
Liza says:

Around 9:00 this morning, water began washing over the temporary wall blocking the Industrial Canal. And then a 30-yard hole appeared in the floodwall. Water overwashed the temporary walls in two other places as well. By late this afternoon, the 9th Ward was re-flooded to a depth of three feet. Army Corps engineers are prepared to drop sandbags to plug the holes in the floodwalls, but they can't do anything until the wind and rain die down.

Experts estimate that this latest flooding will set the recovery back by at least three weeks.

posted on Fri, 09/23/2005 - 11:25pm
Andyonymous's picture
Andyonymous says:

what causes hurricanes, and why are there some years where there are no hurricanes and some where you get about 3 a month?

posted on Sat, 09/24/2005 - 6:27pm
RussD's picture
RussD says:

Hurricanes that hit the Southeast US typically form in August-October over warm water in regions of high humidity...that means at low latitudes stretching from the Bahamas to the West coast of Africa. This is the hurricane season for the US.

These storms get started as small clusters of thunderstorms that become organized by converging air near the surface or the proper conditions in the airflow high in the atmosphere.

There are a lot more hurricanes out there than you might think, it is just that we hear only about the ones that make landfall in the US. It is the luck of the draw...and which way the upper level winds push the storm. Flow patterns in the upper atmosphere can be consistent for several weeks at a time, and if that configuration allows for hits on the US, we become the target.

This NOAA link shows hurricane tracks from previous years.

See my links mentioned in my previous msg above for more information about hurricane formation.

Russ
Meteorologist

posted on Sun, 09/25/2005 - 12:31am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

NO I THINK NOT

posted on Wed, 09/20/2006 - 1:28pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

i THINK WE SHOULD HELP OUT

posted on Sun, 09/25/2005 - 3:49pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

HURICANE KATRINA MADE A BIG DENT IN THE COUNTRY BUT RITA I THINK WILL MAKE A BIGGER 1

posted on Sun, 09/25/2005 - 4:03pm
Liza's picture
Liza says:

This cool little activity lets you learn from Hurricane Andrew (1992) as you try your hand at being part of a team that has to track, analyze, and predict the course of a new hurricane that threatens North America.

posted on Mon, 09/26/2005 - 12:57pm
taylor's picture
taylor says:

I feel bad for some people cause they died just from a storm.
sinncerley, Talor

posted on Mon, 07/10/2006 - 2:50pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

HELLO I DONT THINK THIS SITE IS HELPFUL AT ALL I WANT TO KNOW WHEN DO HURRICANES DIE DOWN

posted on Wed, 09/20/2006 - 1:27pm
Liza's picture
Liza says:

I'm sorry you didn't find Science Buzz helpful.

The information you were looking for is here (and actually a few other places as well), but I can see how it could be difficult to find.

In case you don't follow the link, the Atlantic hurricane season begins on June 1 and ends November 30, although it's possible for tropical storms and hurricanes to form outside of that window. Right about now is usually the peak of Atlantic hurricane activity.

posted on Wed, 09/20/2006 - 2:21pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

If you wanna know when Huricanes die down then GOOGLE IT!!!

posted on Wed, 12/06/2006 - 2:50pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

this site was too helpful!

posted on Fri, 03/09/2007 - 10:18am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

I'm thinking of saving all my money and by the end of the year if new Orleans and all the places that got hit with hurricane Katrina i will give a donation of all the money i saved that year what do u think about that idea i don't know is it a dumb idea i need your help!!!!?!?!?!?

posted on Fri, 03/09/2007 - 2:54pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

How do hurricanes form?
I know that it begins as a low-pressure area over warm water, or a tropical disturbance.
Then the warm, humid air rises and begin to spiral.
What happens next?

posted on Mon, 09/10/2007 - 12:11am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

help me find a hurricane

posted on Thu, 11/01/2007 - 7:19pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

Major typo in this Lake Charles isnt in Tx it's in LA..

posted on Wed, 04/23/2008 - 8:04pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

Hurricane Rita did not make landfall in Lake Charles, TX because there is no such city. I would suggest you do all of your research before posting a article. It made landfall near Lake Charles, LOUISIANA in the Sabine Pass. It is not comparable to Katrina by any means. The only people who would compare it to Katrina are those who did not experiance it first hand. Rita did not cause flooding in New Orleans and niether did Katrina the flooding was caused by the unstable levee. New Orleans was not lost due to Katrina it was lost due the flooding from levee not winds. Again research is a good thing to do!

posted on Sun, 05/18/2008 - 6:16pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

how is this the science this is just information of what happened NOT any science... anybody could have gone on the web and found this!

posted on Thu, 03/26/2009 - 8:16pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

i agree with you, gosh you would think it wouldve been helpful but no they just have what happen, nothing explaining abou thow it formed and died:/

posted on Sun, 12/05/2010 - 6:08pm

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