Rita became a Category 5 hurricane late on September 21, 2005, with sustained wind speeds of 275 kilometers per hour (170 miles per hour), making it the fourth most powerful storm ever measured. It was easing off this strength slightly by mid-day September 22 when the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite captured this image at 12:55 p.m., U.S. Eastern time. The storm bears the markings of a powerful hurricane: it is compact and circular, though clouds have formed in the eye of the storm. This closed or “dirty” eye shape is typical of a storm which has reached its peak strength and is slackening. However, Rita remained a remarkably powerful storm. At the time this image was acquired, Rita had winds of 250 kilometers per hour (155 miles per hour) with gusts as high as 310 km/hr (195 mph).
Rita is the second Category 5 storm of the 2005 Atlantic hurricane season. The first was Hurricane Katrina, which devastated much of the Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama shoreline when it came ashore on August 29. Rita is expected to weaken slightly before coming ashore over the Texas or Louisiana coastline on September 23 or 24 as a major hurricane (Category 3 or higher).
In this photo-like image, the Gulf Coast of the United States frames the open water to the north, while the Yucatan Peninsula is visible to the south. The air just below the cloud banks of Rita is remarkably clear, where wind and pressure patterns caused by the storm have banked polluted air away to the north and west.
The large image has a resolution of 250 meters per pixel. It is available in additional resolutions from the MODIS Rapid Response Team.