Tropical Cyclone Rita Develops North of Vanuatu

Tropical Cyclone Rita developed over the South Pacific Ocean north of Vanuatu on Sunday.  At 4:00 p.m. EST on Sunday the center of Tropical Cyclone Rita was located at latitude 11.5°S and longitude 169.4°E which put it about 455 miles (730 km) north of Port Vila, Vanuatu.  Rita was moving toward the south-southeast at 6 m.p.h. (10 km/h).  The maximum sustained wind speed was 65 m.p.h. (105 km/h) and there were wind gusts to 80 m.p.h. (130 km/h).  The minimum surface pressure was 987 mb.

A center of circulation in an area of low pressure north of Vanuatu exhibited greater organization on Sunday and the system was designated Tropical Cyclone Rita.  Rita had a distinct low level center of circulation.  A band of showers and thunderstorms wrapped around the western and northern sides of the center.  Other rainbands were revolving around the center of circulation.  Storms near the center were generating upper level divergence which was pumping mass away from the tropical cyclone.  Winds to tropical storm force extended out 120 miles (195 km) from the center of circulation.

Tropical Cyclone Rita will move through an environment relatively favorable for intensification during the next 24 hours.  Rita will move over water where the Sea Surface Temperature is near 28°C.  It will move under the western end of an upper level ridge over the South Pacific Ocean.  The ridge will produce northerly winds which will blow toward the top of the tropical cyclone.  Those winds will cause moderate vertical wind shear.  The wind shear will inhibit intensification, but the shear will not be strong enough to prevent Tropical Cyclone Rita from getting stronger.  Rita could strengthen into the equivalent of a hurricane/typhoon during the next 24 hours.

The ridge over the South Pacific Ocean will steer Tropical Cyclone Rita toward the south during several days.  On its anticipated track the center to Rita could approach Vanuatu in 48 to 72 hours.