National Weather Service United States Department of Commerce


A Look Back at Hurricane Rita

Only a month following the landfall of Hurricane Katrina in August 2005, the Gulf Coast received another blow from Hurricane Rita near the end of September 2005. Rita was an intense hurricane that reached Category 5 strength over the central Gulf of Mexico, where it had the fourth-lowest central pressure on record in the Atlantic basin. Rita produced significant storm surge that did significant damage to coastal communities in southwestern Louisiana, and its winds, rain, and tornadoes caused fatalities and a wide swath of damage from eastern Texas to Alabama.


Rita track

 Complete track of Rita. Image courtesy of  University Of Wisconsin - Madison Cooperative

Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies


Development of Rita

Rita originated from an interaction between a tropical wave and the remnants of a cold front.  A tropical wave moved off the coast of Africa on September 7th, but this wave failed to generate much in the way of convection as it moved across the Atlantic Ocean. Meanwhile, a cold front moved south over the central Atlantic and became stationary just a couple of hundred miles north of the Leeward Islands on September 13th. The southern portion of the stationary front became diffuse and formed into a surface trough of low pressure and began drifting westward on September 15th.  This trough continued to track westward and produced a large but disorganized area of disturbed weather.

The tropical wave then merged with the surface trough north of Puerto Rico early on September 17th.  Shower and thunderstorm activity became more concentrated later that day. A gradual increase in organization occurred thanks to some relaxation of wind shear, thanks to an upper level low that shifted further east. A tropical depression formed by 7pm CDT on September 17th approximately 70 nmi east of Grand Turk in the Turks and Caicos.

Rita became a tropical storm by 1pm CDT on the 18th about 25 nmi east-southeast of the island of Mayaguana in the southeastern Bahamas. However, moderate vertical shear to the east of the upper level low over the northwestern Caribbean Sea continued to affect the system by confining deep convection to the north of the center. While the steering flow was generally toward the west, the low-level center reformed to the north, resulting in a west-northwestward motion. Once the upper-level low to the west weakened on September 19th and the shear relaxed, the convection became more organized around the center and the storm strengthened. Rita then turned more westward early on September 20th along the southern periphery of a deep ridge positioned over the western Atlantic and Florida. For several hours Rita struggled to maintain an inner core, and it remained a tropical storm with maximum winds of 69 mph into the morning of September 20th as it approached the Florida Straits. Once there, Rita began to strengthen, and became a hurricane with an intensity of 81 mph by 7am CDT September 20th, about 100 nmi east-southeast of Key West, Florida. Rita then attained an intensity of 98 mph (Category 2) by 1pm CDT that day, and its center passed about 40 n mi south of Key West about an hour later.


Rapid Intensification

Rita proceeded westward into the southeastern Gulf of Mexico and rapid strenghtening ensued. Rita was a Category 3 hurricane early on September 21st. Throughout most of the remainder of that day, Rita quickly intensified over the very warm waters of the Loop Current and with very weak vertical wind shear, reached an intensity of 167mph by 1pm CDT. Rita had strengthened from a tropical storm to a Category 5 hurricane in less than 36 hours! It remained at Category 5 strength for the next 18 hours, reaching an estimated peak intensity of 178mph by 10pm CDT September 21st. This occurred while located about 270 nmi south-southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi River. During that time it also turned toward the west-northwest around the western extent of the ridge centered over the southeastern United States.

Hurricane Rita Visible Satellite Imagery

Satellite imagery courtesy of MODIS. Link is of Hurricane Rita near peak intensity. 



Weakening and Landfall

The inner eyewall deteriorated later the next day and Rita abruptly weakened to Category 4 strength with 144 mph maximum winds by mid afternoon. By early on the 23rd, Rita had grown in size with a new outer eyewall but did not reintensify. Due to increasing wind shear and slightly cooler waters, steady weakening continued that same day. Rita rounded the western periphery of the deep-layer ridge and turned toward the northwest that day, with a slight increase in forward speed from about 9 to 12 mph. It weakened to a Category 3 hurricane with 127mph maximum winds by 1pm CDT on the 23rd and was located about 140 nmi southeast of Sabine Pass at the Texas/Louisiana border. Rita remained a Category 3 when she made landfall at 2:40am CDTon September 24, 2005, with an estimated intensity of 115mph in extreme southwestern Louisiana just west of Johnson’s Bayou and just east of Sabine Pass.

Rita weakened after making landfall, remaining a hurricane for only about 5 more hours, when it was centered about 35 n mi north of Beaumont, Texas. As a steadily weakening tropical storm, Rita proceeded northward, with its center moving roughly along the Texas/Louisiana border during the remainder of that day. Rita weakened to a tropical depression by 1am CDT on the 25th while centered over southwestern Arkansas and then turned northeastward ahead of an approaching frontal system. The depression eventuall degenerated to a remnant low over southeastern Illinois and was absorbed into a frontal zone over the southern Great Lakes region.

Landfall Radar/Satellite Animation Loops

LCH Radar of Rita's landfall

 Satellite Imagery of Hurricane Rita


Effects on the ArkLaMiss Region

 The outer bands of Rita affected portions of Southwest Mississippi, all of Northeast Louisiana and a portion of Southern Arkansas early Saturday into Sunday. The major impacts from this hurricane were the large severe weather/tornado outbreak, heavy rainfall and lastly, tropical storm force winds and gusts across the west and southwest portion of the area.


The severe weather outbreak, spawned from the outer edges of Rita, lasted about 36 hours from Saturday into Sunday evening.  Officially, 55 tornadoes occurred across the Jackson, Ms, National Weather Service (NWS), county warning area (CWA). This makes the tornado outbreak during Rita the largest tornado outbreak in the NWS Jackson CWA in recorded history. Of the 55 total tornadoes, 1 was rated an F3 and 7 were rated F2. Additionally, 1 fatality occurred in Humphreys county and there were a total of 16 injuries. As a final note, tornado outbreaks are not uncommon during landfalling tropical cyclones. In fact, Hurricane Andrew produced 26 tornadoes across Mississippi in late August 1992. As you can see, the tornadoes during Rita (55) far surpass what
occurred with Andrew (26).




Tropical storm force winds extended out far enough from Rita to give a portion of the region sustained winds between 25 and 35 mph with wind gusts as high as 40 to 50 mph. These gradient winds from Rita were mainly confined to areas west of Interstate 55 from Grenada to Jackson, and then south-eastward from Jackson to Columbia. These winds were responsible for downing many trees and power lines across the western portion of the Jackson CWA, as well as having some trees fall on homes.



Maximum Surface Sustained Wind Speed
County/Parish Site Speed(mph)
Washington Greenville (GLH) 36
Madison, LA Tallulah-Vicksburg (TVR) 33
Carroll Greenwood (GWO) 30
Hinds Jackson-Hawkins (HKS) 30
Adams Natchez (HEZ) 30
Lowndes Columbus (GTR) 26
Lauderdale Meridian (MEI) 26


Maximum Surface Wind Speed Gusts
County/Parish Site Speed(mph)
Madison, LA Tallulah-Vicksburg (TVR) 48
Carroll Greenwood (GWO) 47
Washington Greenville (GLH) 47
Adams Natchez (HEZ) 46
Hinds Jackson-Hawkins (HKS) 44
Lauderdale Meridian (MEI) 41
Lowndes Columbus (GTR) 39





Heavy rain became a problem as a large area across Western Mississippi, Northeast Louisiana and Southeast Arkansas received 4 to 7 inches of rain. A smaller corridor of the region, generally along the Big Black River, received 7 to 10 inches early Sunday morning. This heavy rain caused areas of flooding for many locations with the worst flooding occurring in an area close to the Big Black River. The most significant flooding occurred in Warren and Yazoo counties were many homes were flooded as well several as roads washed out. Additionally, this heavy rain fell at a vulnerable time for many crops across the region. The main impact was to the cotton crop as many plants had the cotton open then became wet as the heavy rains fell.



Storm Total Rain Amounts (ASOS)
Site Rainfall(inches)
Greenville (GLH) 6.81
Natchez (HEZ) 5.56
Meridian Naval Air Station 4.34
Greenwood (GWO) 3.39
Jackson-Hawkins (HKS) 2.66
Columbus (GTR) 2.64
Meridian Key Field (MEI) 2.38
Tallulah-Vicksburg(TVR) 2.16







Storm Total Rain Amounts
72 hour rainfall ending 7am CDT 9/26/2005
Site Rainfall(inches)
Clayton, LA 7.77
Bentonia, MS 7.66
Como River Gage, LA 6.84
Natchez River Gage, LA 6.56
Ft. Necessity Rive Gage, LA 5.84
Vicksburg River Gage, MS 5.79
Arkansas City River Gage, AR 5.53
Ethel, MS 5.40
Kosciusko, MS 5.27
Leland River Gage, MS 5.01
Tendal River Gage, LA 4.86
Vicksburg City, MS 4.83
Main Canal at Wayside, MS 4.75
Chunky River Gage, MS 4.69
Acme River Gage, LA 4.49
Grenada, MS 4.36
Enterprise River Gage, MS 4.30
Steele Bayou Structure, MS 4.22
Lauderdale RAWS, MS 4.16
Bude, MS 4.07
Ackerman, MS 3.98







 72 hour rainfall from Hurricane Rita 



Rita's Place in History

With Rita occurring just about one month after Hurricane Katrina devastated areas on the Gulf Coast, Rita would have her own impressive impacts on the region. Rita was the third hurricane during the 2005 season to reach Category 5 status, with four hurricanes in total that season reaching Category 5 strength. In addition, Rita was also the earliest that a 17th named storm in the Atlantic Basin has occurred.  Rita made landfall with an estimated central pressure of 935mb, which is the lowest on record in the Atlantic Basin for a storm having an intensity of 115mph. From a society viewpoint, the approach of Hurricane Rita provoked one of the largest evacuations in United States history. Reports from the media indicated that the number of people evacuating from Texas could have exceeded 2 million! The charts below indicate other records Hurricane Rita set.



Costliest Mainland Tropical Cyclones (not adjusted for inflation) 1900-2006
Rank Hurricane Year Category

Damage(billions USD)

1 Katrina 2005 3 81
2 Andrew 1992 5 26.5
3 Wilma 2005 3 20.6
4 Charley 2004 4 15
5 Ivan 2004 3 14.2
6 Rita 2005 3 11.3
7 Frances 2004 2 8.9
8 Hugo 1989 4 7
9 Jeanne 2004 3 6.9
10 Allison 2001 Tropical Storm 5


Most Intense Atlantic hurricanes
Rank Hurricane Year Pressure(mb)
1 Wilma 2005 882
2 Gilbert 1988 888
3 Labor Day Hurricane 1935 892
4 Rita 2005 895
5 Allen 1980 899
6 Katrina 2005 902
7 Camille 1969 905
7 Mitch 1998 905
7 Dean 2007 905
10 "Cuba" 1924


10 Ivan 2004




  Other Rita Related Links

Complete National Hurricane Tropical Cyclone Report

Hurricane Rita Advisory Archive

NOAA Coastal Images

University Of Wisconsin - Madison Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies Hurricane Rita Page

HPC Rainfall Summary

NESDIS Satellite Imagery

University of Wisconsin-Madison Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies Hurricane Rita Satellite Imagery

NWS Lake Charles Hurricane Rita Page