Tropical Storm Rita, the 17th tropical storm of the busy Atlantic hurricane season, formed near the Bahamas on Sunday and prompted an evacuation order for tourists in the lower Florida Keys. Forecasters said Rita could be a hurricane by late on Monday, when it was expected to be in the Florida Straits between the Keys and Cuba. The Bahamas, southern Florida, the Keys, Cuba and the Turks and Caicos Islands were all under storm alerts.
Forecasters said Rita’s path could take it into the Gulf of Mexico by Tuesday or Wednesday.
Infrared Loop of Tropical Storm Rita.
RITA MOVING CLOSER TO THE SOUTHEASTERN BAHAMAS… …NEW WATCHES AND WARNINGS ISSUED FOR SOUTHERN FLORIDA… AT 11 PM EDT…0300Z… THE HURRICANE WATCH FOR THE FLORIDA KEYS HAS BEEN UPGRADED TO A HURRICANE WARNING. A HURRICANE WARNING IS NOW IN EFFECT FOR ALL OF THE FLORIDA KEYS AND FLORIDA BAY FROM OCEAN REEF SOUTHWARD AND WESTWARD TO DRY TORTUGAS.
Thousands of tourists jammed highways Sunday to escape the lower Florida Keys in preparation of Rita.
A hurricane warning was posted for the entire Florida Keys, meaning hurricane conditions of winds of at least 74 mph are likely by late Monday. In Tallahassee, Gov. Jeb Bush declared a state of emergency, giving the state authority to oversee evacuations and activate the National Guard, among other powers. “It does look like that there is the potential for it to become a hurricane, near or just before it reaches the Florida Keys,” said Daniel Brown, a meteorologist at the National Hurricane Center.