JEFFREY BROWN: Mr. Mayfield, welcome. What's the latest on where Rita is headed and when it might hit land?
MAX MAYFIELD: We really haven't changed the forecast; it's still a very, very powerful Category 4 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson hurricane scale, maximum sustained winds are 145 miles per hour based on aircraft data that we've been getting this afternoon. It is moving to the west, northwest about nine miles per hour and we are very confident that it will gradually turn up more towards the northwest here over the next 24 hours. And that generally has it into the direction of the extreme upper Texas coast. It makes a real difference on where the actual landfall occurs -- I it is south of Galveston Bay or near Beaumont, Port Arthur or over closer to Cameron, the highest storm surge will be near and to the east of where the center crosses the coast.
And if it goes in just to the south of Galveston Bay they could easily have fifteen to twenty feet of storm surge. If it goes in just a little bit to the southwest there in Beaumont and Port Arthur, they will get the storm surge, a little bit closer to the Louisiana, Texas border, then Cameron, Louisiana, Lake Charles area will get the highest storm surge. So this will have a big impact to a very large region.
JEFFREY BROWN: This afternoon Rita was downgraded to a Category 4, but how significant is that in terms of its strength when it hits land?
MAX MAYFIELD: Yes, it's not significant. And I say it is kind of the difference being run over by an 18-wheeler or by a freight train. Neither prospect is good.
JEFFREY BROWN: When you say it's going to hit a large area, this is a-- this is still a huge storm. How wide an area should be worried at this point?
MAX MAYFIELD: Well, the hurricane warning goes from Morgan City, Louisiana -- this red area that you see right here -- over to Port O'Connor, Texas. So that's the main area that will be impacted by possibly the hurricane force winds but that's such a large circulation we now have the tropical storm warning that goes all the way along the remainder of the Louisiana coast over to the mouth of the Pearl River. That is the Louisiana, Mississippi border. And that now includes the New Orleans area and Lake Pontchartrain, also extends down southward here to Port Mansfield and the south Texas coast.
JEFFREY BROWN: Well, I was going to ask you about New Orleans because you know, obviously, there is a lot of worry about the levees there. What you can tell them in terms of a forecast now?
MAX MAYFIELD: Well, they are going to have some water in the southeast Louisiana area there. And the tides are currently about two feet above normal now in the areas already impacted by Katrina, and that's southeast Louisiana, Mississippi and all the way over to Alabama, the Dauphin Island is reporting about two feet above normal. Those tides will likely come up gradually three to five feet above normal before it's all over and they'll have some wave action on top of that. So they will have some coastal flooding there.
The tropical storm force winds most likely will be in these, you know, squalls that are going to be coming through and not be sustained for long periods of time.
JEFFREY BROWN: In the next day as this approaches what is determining whether it gains or weakens in strength as it approaches land?
MAX MAYFIELD: Well, a couple of things. The sea surface temperatures and the ocean heat content that it's going to be passing over -- it gets a little bit cooler as you get closer to the coast and also the upper level environment is not going to be quite as favorable. But that's right before it gets close to land. So I think the wise thing to do here is go ahead and prepare for a Category 4 hurricane.
JEFFREY BROWN: And I heard a forecaster today talking about the possibility that the storm once on land will stall out as she put it, and it would sit there and rain for a few days.
MAX MAYFIELD: We're very concerned about that as it moves onshore here, and the three, four, even five-day period here, if it stalls over eastern Texas, the eastern Texas, western Louisiana area could have some very, very heavy rain fall amounts.
JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Max Mayfield of the National Hurricane Center thanks very much.
MAX MAYFIELD: Okay. Thank you.