Monday, September 19, 2005

Rita strengthens; Louisiana now in cone

A strengthening Tropical Storm Rita is expected to threaten a large area of the Louisiana Gulf Coast with at least some winds and rain by Thursday, when it is forecast to reach Category 3 hurricane strength and be several hundred miles south of the mouth of the Mississippi River.

At 11 a.m. Monday, the National Hurricane Center forecast that Rita could hit Galveston, Texas, on Saturday morning. But areas as far east as Bay St. Louis, including the entire New Orleans area, are within the forecast path error, and forecasters urged returning New Orleans, St. Bernard and Plaquemines parish residents to keep an ear tuned to weather forecasts, as Rita’s path could shift farther east over the next five days. Several computer models take the storm over Louisiana or as far east as Biloxi.

“Five days is a lot of forecast time we’re dealing with,” said Frank Revitte, warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service’s Slidell office. “We’ll have to watch carefully over the next few days to see how large and how close it gets.”

The National Hurricane Center issued a hurricane warning for the southernmost part of the Florida Peninsula and the Florida Keys at 11 a.m., predicting that Rita would reach Category 1 strength before moving through the Florida Straits into the Gulf of Mexico on Tuesday.

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