JEFFREY BROWN: Mr. Rappaport, what can you tell us about Rita's path now, and when it might hit land?
ED RAPPAPORT: Rita is now located less than 150 miles offshore, at least the center is about 150 miles offshore. It's moving to the northwest at 12 miles per hour. That means that in less than about 12 hours it will be making landfall -- its center coming ashore on the upper Texas coast, southwestern Louisiana. We think the intensity will be Category 3. That makes it a major hurricane at landfall.
JEFFREY BROWN: I heard a report that it speeded up a bit and might hit earlier than you expected?
ED RAPPAPORT: It speeded up a couple miles per hour, but we still think landfall will be near daybreak, perhaps an hour or two before that.
JEFFREY BROWN: Now it weakened today, as you said, to a Category 3 from 4. Yesterday we talked to your colleague Max Mayfield; he said that wasn't all that significant yesterday when it weakened from five to four. What about today?
ED RAPPAPORT: Well, certainly, we are pleased with every decrease in wind speed we can see because not only for the lesser wind speed but the smaller amount of surge that will drive ashore. Unfortunately a Category 3 hurricane in this location is still going to create a surge that's on the order of ten to fifteen feet. That's what we see in the yellow here, even some places that could be higher than 15 feet. This is going to be near and to the east of where the center comes ashore, and the center is currently forecast to come inland just to the east of Houston and Galveston. So the worst of the surge would be to the east of that.
JEFFREY BROWN: Well, what about cities like Houston and Galveston where there was such the evacuation going on, are they going to get by without feeling much, or what's the forecast there?
ED RAPPAPORT: Houston and Galveston are right on the edge based on the current forecast. If the center of the hurricane takes the forecasted path we're showing -- here's Houston and Galveston -- they will be on the back side with tropical storm force winds and maybe hurricane force gusts. But if the center edges just a little bit to the left, even twenty or thirty miles, they will get sustained hurricane force winds and we'll see some storm surge there, in fact, the water that is being pushed ahead of the hurricane, has already raised the level of the water four feet at the Galveston pier.
JEFFREY BROWN: Now, to the east as you know, there was already worry in New Orleans about water coming in over some of those levees. Is New Orleans getting hit harder than you had expected yesterday?
ED RAPPAPORT: Not necessarily. New Orleans is well away from the center of the storm. They are about 300 miles, nearly 300 miles away. There are some outer rain bands there that are causing problems. Here's the center of the storm -- the eye and the eye wall. Here's the coast of Louisiana. Here's New Orleans and Lake Pontchartrain. The outer bands are producing some rainfall that could add up to three to five inches. The bigger problem perhaps is the steady onshore east winds of near tropical storm force which is driving the water towards the shoreline. We expect the water levels to rise there to between four and six feet, probably reaching their maximum near high tide tonight about midnight.
JEFFREY BROWN: Now, yesterday there had been worry that once the storm does hit land it could sit for awhile. What's the situation look like today?
ED RAPPAPORT: That's still the forecast. After the hurricane makes landfall, we will see a track towards the northwest continue, but slow. There could be some stalling late in the weekend, early next week, which will allow the hurricane to drop more rain in the same location, perhaps in excess of 25 inches. And if it does so, of course we will see a considerable flood.
JEFFREY BROWN: Okay. Ed Rappaport of the National Hurricane Center. Thanks a lot.
ED RAPPAPORT: Thank you.