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Catastrophic Rita....then Summer vs Fall

Josh Larson @ 11:00 AM

Today's Weather

Though today is the first official day of autumn, we'll see continued summery weather, with highs in most locations in the mid to upper 80s under mostly sunny skies. Partly cloudy tonight with mild overnight lows in the mid to upper 60s.

***Rita Update (Noon) ***

Rita strengthened last night to a catastrophic Category 5 hurricane -- the third strongest (897mb) hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic basin -- with winds stronger than Katrina's at her peak. Model guidance (see image below) has shifted somewhat east, but is still in good agreement, and suggests that Rita will make landfall in a 50-mile window around and to the east of Galveston, TX on Saturday.

Click the above image to see a great satellite loop of Rita; thanks to Howard Bernstein of WUSATV9.

While intensity forecasts are notoriously difficult, it seems likely that Rita will make landfall as a Category 4 storm. However, early indications of increased potential windshear over the region suggest that she may weaken to a Cat. 3 storm by landfall. That being said, I personally believe that Rita will have a much more serious and pronounced effect on oil and gasoline supplies and prices than did Katrina, as Rita's expected path puts the most damaging winds (in the NE quadrant) over an area of even more numerous oil rigs and refineries than were in Katrina's path. I'd fill up my tank today instead of waiting until oil eclipses $80 a barrel...

While New Orleans is inherently more vulnerable to hurricane damage due to its location below sea level, Rita may still produce catastrophic damage across eastern Texas and western Louisiana and even up to 150 miles inland. Exactly how Rita behaves post landfall is still unclear. Some models suggest she may slow down considerably or even stall over northern Texas or the southern Plains which would likely cause devastating flooding (potential for 25+ inches) over that region, compounding the damage almost exponentially.

Note that New Orleans is likely to see strong winds and the potential for 2-4+" of additional rainfall from Rita, compounding relief efforts. Alas, it does not appear that Rita will bring badly-needed rain to our area as its inland track will likely be a thousand miles to our south and west.

Quick pattern overview

The summer that simply won't end will continue to be the main weather story over the next two days (and briefly again on Sunday) for our own region, but hopefully we may finally be heading towards a cooler, potentially wetter, weather pattern during the next several weeks. Most models indicate that for most of next week we'll see weak to moderate troughing over the Northeast, (hopefully) allowing for a prolonged period of temperatures at near (to perhaps even slightly below) normal levels.

The next 5 days (Sept 22-26)
Forecast high/low: 84/62 (normal = 77/59)
Forecast precip: below normal

After today's highs in the mid to upper 80s, expect even warmer weather on Friday, with highs near 90 and lows in the lower 60s; a cold front will bring a 30% chance of widely scattered showers during the late afternoon and early evening. Much more pleasant weather on Saturday in the wake of the cold front: expect partly sunny, breezy conditions, with highs in the upper 70s and lows in the mid 60s. Milder again on Sunday ahead of the next cold front, with partly sunny skies and highs in the mid 80s, lows in the mid 60s. A stronger cold front will likely push through late Sunday into Monday (along with a 50% chance of showers), with pleasant fall weather behind it. Highs Monday, under mostly cloudy skies, will be in the mid to upper 70s, with overnight lows dropping into the low to mid 50s.

The following 5 days (Sept 27 - Oct 1)
Forecast high/low: 75/55 (normal = 75/57)
Forecast precip: near normal?

Weather on Tuesday looks terrific, with very low humidity levels, abundant sunshine and cool daytime highs in the mid 70s with overnight lows likely to drop to near 50 in the cooler suburbs and to the mid 50s downtown. More of the same on Wednesday, with highs in the mid 70s and lows in the 50s. There are some indications that a frontal system may provide scattered showers and more cloudiness Thursday into Friday, but the pleasant temperatures -- highs in the mid to upper 70s and lows in the mid 50s -- are likely to remain though Saturday.

Verification of last week's outlook

I'm taking out the trash! Last week's 10-day outlook was a total bust. All model guidance was way too bullish in expecting cooler air to filter into our region from the Northeast. Instead, cold fronts were sluggish or non-existent and ridging over the East kept winds from the south and west aloft, giving us several unexpected (and unappreciated) days near 90. So, for the period last Thursday through yesterday I was off a staggering 6.7 degrees, which nets me a failing grade based on's rigorous standards. Wish me better luck next time...

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