Hurricane Rita Chase Account - September 21st - 24th, 2005
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Ultimate Chase Documents Hurricane Rita in several locations including Lake Charles, Westlake, Beaumont, Port Arthur, and The Florida Keys!
Radar Image showing Ultimate Chase's Location During Hurricane Rita:
Ultimate Chase was located at the Isle of Capri Casino Parking Garage near Westlake, LA
Hurricane Rita Satellite Images Below:
Hurricane Rita Infrared Satellite Image Courtesy NOAA Hurricane Rita Satellite Image Courtesy NOAA
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Hurricane Rita Photos and Video Stills From Landfall #01 in the Florida Keys:
Hurricane Rita Photos and Video Stills From Landfall #02 in Texas and Louisiana:
Hurricane Rita Chase Account Below:
Landfall # 01: Key West and the Florida Keys.....
I documented Hurricane Rita's storm surge effects in the lower Florida Keys. Rita did not make a direct strike on the Keys, but came close enough to cause significant storm surge and winds up to 100mph. The surge came completely over US-1 in a few locations and covered the road with sand, rocks, seaweed, and other debris. The Keys suffered some damage, but overall was very very lucky. If Hurricane Rita would have tracked just 30 miles further to the north and started the rapid intensification just 48 hours earlier, it could have nailed the keys as a Cat-5 Hurricane. Hurricane Rita became a dangerous Category 5 Hurricane with an astonishing barometric pressure of 897mb just hours after passing the Florida Keys. If the timing was a little different the Florida Keys could have suffered Catastrophic damage !!
Landfall # 02: Lake Charles, Beaumont, and Port Arthur, TX......
I flew into DFW airport around 9:00pm only to find very limited supplies. The gas was already scarce and spare gas canisters were nowhere to be found. I stocked up on enough food and water for 10 days and headed down to the Gulf Coast. I was severely crunched for time because I was scheduled to be on NBC's Today Show with Matt Lauer at 5:45am and all the main roads to the gulf coast were reversed to have all north bound traffic. This meant I had to take all back roads the entire way down to the coast and this took FOREVER. On my drive down to the coast I saw many vehicles pulled over on the side of the road out of gas, overheated, and just simply broke down. Many families were sleeping on the side of the road in the grass because the traffic was so bad that they were stuck. Most gas station were out of gas, WHERE is the evacuation plan, WHAT is the evacuation plan, DO we have an evacuation plan for major cities. NO !! If a plan was in place the first priority when evacuating thousands of people would have been to keep the gas stations stocked with gas !
I arrive at Galveston Island in time for the Today Show interview and to start surveying the area for locations to use to document Hurricane Rita. As the day progresses my target area changes to further up the coastline. I decided to team up with friend Brad Riley in Beaumont, TX and use his hotel as the new base location. We went down to Port Arthur to survey the area and did not trust being there for a night landfall. If the seawall was breached the water would have poured in fast and instantly would have become a very dangerous situation. I wasn't convinced that Port Arthur was the best place to be to get the max winds anyway. After analyzing the data more, Brad and I decided to head east. We went to an area called Westlake, LA. It was located just west of Lake Charles and we found a parking garage with plenty of lights on because of the backup generator at the Isle of Capri Casino. The most valuable item when documenting night land falling Hurricanes is finding some kind of lighting. We shot video for several hours in the eastern eyewall and decided to document the eye of Hurricane Rita next !!
IN THE EYE......Brad and I decided to document Hurricane Rita's eye by heading west out of the eastern eyewall into the eye. We were in a solid rugged Hummer and felt comfortable driving in these conditions because it was interstate roads the entire way into the eye (Interstate 10). This eye experience is my top of all time. We recorded a barometric pressure of  940mb ( My Personal Lowest ). My previous record was 942mb in Hurricane Charley and just when I thought that was going to be the highlight of the eye experience, BAM !!! A bird dives right into my windshield and it's wing gets stuck under the windshield wiper and keeps moving back and forth as the wipers wipe. It startled both of us ! We didn't see it coming, the bird just dove right out of the sky and straight down into the windshield. During the next 20 minutes while driving in the eye about 20 more birds repeated this scenario and died. There were also allot of birds that were already dead on the road and they were not run over, they either dove into someone else's windshield or just simply dropped out of the sky. I am going with the latter part because there was no one else on the roads during the eye experience. It felt like we were in the Alfred Hitchcock movie "The Birds". While driving in the eye we saw hundreds of these exhausted birds that must have been trapped in the eye for days and maybe even since Florida. Birds get trapped in the center of a developing system and literally get locked inside as the system develops into a organized hurricane with a well defined eye. The birds can't fly out because the eyewall surrounding the eye has wind speeds that would kill a bird instantly and the birds can't fly up and out of the Hurricane, this would be too high for the bird and the bird would die, So they are literally trapped! These erratic birds seemed possessed !
We arrive back to the hotel in Beaumont at daybreak and the wind is still blowing in the 60mph-70mph range, but decided to get a few hours sleep at the hotel before we go back out an document the damage. We head back out around 12noon to find severe damage in the area the eyewall passed through. We documented the storm surge that came into Port Arthur by catching a ride on a canoe with some of the locals. The water wasn't super deep, but high enough to get into peoples homes and cause lots of damage. After many days of very little sleep we had become wore out and decided to head back north. We soon got back to areas with power and gas in Dallas and called it a chase ! What a season. Hurricane number 4, with 2 of them making landfall twice, so really this was Landfall Mission number 6 and already Hurricane Stan is on the Horizon.........
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