Rita Wobbles West Toward Key West; Expected to Gain Hurricane Strength Monday Evening, Hit Keys Tuesday Morning

September 19, 2005

Tourists and residents are beginning to evacuate Key West, and homeowners and businessmen are boarding-up, as Tropical Storm Rita continues on a path from east of Nassau, Bahamas toward south Florida.

Rita’s winds are at 60 mph, but the storm is predicted to become a hurricane late today, moving west at 9 mph. The National Hurricane Center predicts Rita will be near the Florida Keys within 48 hours. Rita’s path is expected to take it to Texas, Mexico or even Louisiana as early next week.

In its 8 p.m. EDT advisory the National Hurricane Center said Tropical Storm Rita had wobbled a little westward and is expected to reach hurricane strength later tonight. Rita’s center was located 140 miles south-southeast of Nassau and 315 miles east-southeast of Key West, Fla.

Rita has wobbled westward at 13 mph and is expected to resume this direction late tonight and continue on this path for the next 24 hours. On this track the center of Rita will pass over or near Andros Island in the Bahamas tonight and approach the Florida Keys Tuesday morning.

Rita’s maximum sustained winds are near 70 mph with higher gusts. Some strengthening is forecast during the next 24 hours. Tropical storm force winds extend outward up to 105 miles from the center.

A hurricane warning is in effect for the Cuban provinces of Villa Clara, Matanzas, Ciudad de Habana and La Habana. A tropical storm warning is in effect for the provinces of Ciego de Avila, Sancti Spiritus, Cienfuegos and Pinar del Rio.

A hurricane warning is in effect for the extreme southern Florida peninsula from Golden Beach south to Florida city and west to east Cape Sable, and for all of the Florida Keys from Ocean Reef to the Dry Tortugas including Florida Bay.

A hurricane warning is in effect for the Exumas and Andros Island in the northwest Bahamas. A tropical storm warning is in effect for the remainder of the northwestern and central Bahamas.

A tropical storm warning and a hurricane watch are in effect from Deerfield Beach, Fla. south to north of Golden Beach and a tropical storm warning is in effect along the Florida east coast from north of Deerfield beach north to Jupiter Inlet and for Lake Okeechobee.

A hurricane watch is in effect for the extreme southwestern Florida
peninsula from west of east Cape Sable north to Chokoloskee and a tropical storm watch is in effect for the southwestern Florida coast from north of Chokoloskee to Englewood.

Storm surge flooding of 6 to 9 feet above normal tide levels along with large and dangerous battering waves are possible in the Florida Keys in areas of onshore flow. Coastal storm surge flooding of 3 to 5 feet is possible along the extreme southeastern Florida coast and in the northwestern Bahamas.

Rita is expected to produce total rainfall accumulations of 4 to 6 inches over the southeastern and central Bahamas with possible isolated maximum amounts of 8 inches. Rainfall accumulations of 3 to 6 inches are possible for eastern Cuba. Storm totals of 6 to 10 inches with isolated maximum amounts of 15 inches will be possible in the Florida Keys and central and northwestern Cuba with 3 to 5 inches possible across the southern Florida peninsula. Isolated tornadoes are possible later tonight and Tuesday over the Florida Keys and the southern Florida peninsula.

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