Tuesday, September 20

HURRICANE RITA: WHAT MUST EVACUEES OF KATRINA BE THINKING?

The Lonestar State has generously taken in about 250,000 of its neighbors -- evacuees from Louisiana and Mississippi whose homes and neighborhoods were pummeled by Hurricane Katrina's furious winds and storm surge -- and now those evacuees and their hosts face the prospect of Hurricane Rita, which may make landfall along the Texas coastline by Friday night or Saturday morning of this week. While Galveston Island near Houston is scheduled to undergo a voluntary evacuation beginning today, the latest computer modeling of Rita's projected track, according to this morning's edition of the "Houston Chronicle" (registration required), has the storm hitting the Texas Gulf Coast farther south of Houston near Matagorda Island. That said, Rita's path remains a serious concern for Houston -- America's 4th largest city -- and nearby Galveston Island.

Write Kevin Moran and Polly Hughes of the Chronicle:

Keep packing that suitcase and hold off on a sigh of relief, but the National Hurricane Center's latest official forecast names the stretch of coast just north of Matagorda Island as Hurricane Rita's most likely target instead of Galveston.

With landfall on the Gulf Coast not expected until Friday night, meteorologists caution that predictions remain unreliable: Long-range forecasts such as this are typically off by hundreds of miles, and different computer models call for different landfalls. Morever, the overnight course shift is small, so preparations continue in the danger zone from Brownsville to Lake Charles, La.

"We're definitely not out of the woods yet," said Kent Prochazka, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in League City.

If Rita does in fact hit closer to Matagorda than Galveston as a Category 3 hurricane, the Houston area would be in for high winds, heavy rain and possibly tornadoes, but that wouldn't be as dangerous for Houston as a direct hit on Galveston, Prochazka said.

I cannot imagine what many of the evacuees must be thinking about the prospect of another horror gripping them. So many were traumatized by Katrina, particularly those who suffered the ineptitude of New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin and Louisiana governor Kathleen Blanco and wound up at the Superdome or the Convention Center in the Crescent City, or on rooftops as the flood waters rose. They carry emotional scars that may never heal.

One of my sisters is flying into Houston midday Friday for a long weekend visit with me and my wife. The question becomes will the weather be such by then that many flights inbound to Houston are cancelled or seriously delayed? Or, will she get into town for our visit only to experience difficulties getting out of here come Sunday night? This will be (provided she makes it here) her first visit to our home north of Houston since we moved here in 2001. We spoke on the telephone this morning and at this point she remains determined to see me, but continuing weather updates and the progression of Rita through the week will determine whether that is prudent or not. I'd be disappointed; she'd be disappointed; but SAFETY FIRST.

FOLLOW-UP: Hurricane Rita, according to the Associated Press (AP), is now a Category 2 hurricane with winds in excess of 100 miles per hour.

FOLLOW-UP II: Storm tracker (courtesy of "Click2Houston.com").