Would you believe there is another nasty hurricane threatening the Gulf coast? Hurricane Rita is a
CAT 4 CAT 5 storm which is moving westward across the Gulf of Mexico. It's currently projected to hit the coast of Texas.
(I've copied the satellite map pictured here to my own web space to reduce bandwidth usage; click to see a live update from Weather Underground.)
[Update 11:50pm: Rita is now a CAT 5. It also has a measured central pressure of 898 millibars. The CP of a hurricane is a rough measure of its strength; the lower the pressure, the stronger the hurricane. Rita's CP makes it the third most intense hurricane ever recorded, and it is likely to intensify over the next 12 hours. The measurement may not have recorded the actual lowest pressure, either:
DROPSONDE DATA FROM AN AIR FORCE RESERVE UNIT RECONNAISSANCE AIRCRAFT AT 623 PM CDT ... 2323Z ... INDICATED THE CENTRAL PRESSURE HAS FALLEN TO BELOW 899 MB...OR 26.55 INCHES.
THE DROPSONDE INSTRUMENT MEASURED 32 KT/35 MPH WINDS AT THE SURFACE...WHICH MEANS IT LIKELY DID NOT RECORD THE LOWEST PRESSURE IN THE EYE OF RITA. THE CENTRAL PRESSURE IS PROBABLY AT LEAST AS LOW AS 898 MB...AND PERHAPS EVEN LOWER.
Rita is now stronger than Katrina was at its strongest, and I repeat, it's likely to intensify tomorrow.]
[Update Thu 1:00pm: Rita is expected to weaken to a CAT 3 or 4 prior to landfall, but the meteorologists at Weather Underground are saying that the storm surge will be equivalent to a CAT 5, just as Katrina's was.]
The Texas coast has a hardier shoreline that is not as fragile as the Louisiana/Alabama/Mississippi coasts, but the real concern is that it will do further damage to our country's energy infrastructure. A lot of oil drilling and refining infrastructure was damaged by Katrina, and Rita has the potential to damage a lot more -- and with the damage from Katrina still being repaired, this could be like kicking us when we're down.
We're all familiar with the way that Katrina drove up gas prices around the country to over $3/gallon. Prices have recovered since then, coming back down to a still-painful $2.69/gallon or so. This was not because refinery capacity magically recovered -- Katrina's damage to refineries is still there. What happened is that the undamaged refineries redirected their efforts toward making more gasoline as opposed to other oil products like heating oil, because gasoline was in such high demand and was selling for such a high price. That's a relief at the pump, but doesn't bode well for winter heating costs.
Now Rita is aiming right at a series of drilling platforms and refineries off the short of Texas. The primary danger for the average person's wallet is the refineries. If the absolute worst-case scenario is true, Rita could shut down a third of the already-reduced refinery capacity of the United States. Even if that happened for only a few days, it would be absolutely brutal to the economy and to your wallet.
Rita is still well on the east side of the Gulf of Mexico, and won't make landfall for a couple of days. Currently the NWS is projecting a Saturday morning landfall at 7am.
I expect that this will be the best source for Rita information over the next few days:
- The Oil Drum - a progressive blog about Peak Oil. They have extensive information on Rita already.
Other places to keep your eye on include:
- Jeff Masters at Weather Underground
- Steve Gregory at Weather Underground
- National Hurricane Center from the National Weather Service
And I can't recommend this enough for detailed, easy-to-read background information:
This also presents a difficult, perhaps no-win situation for President Bush. Should he act early to avoid potential damage from Rita? Obviously the answer is yes, because to do otherwise would be foolish. But unless he approaches it with extreme humility -- a sort of "we've now learned our lesson" approach -- he's going to be damned by most of the country for acting quickly to save white people and oil in Texas, while letting black people struggle and die for days in New Orleans.
Does the President have a single drop of humility in him? I sure haven't seen any yet. What do you think?