Rita now third most powerful hurricane in Atlantic history

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Fueled by the warm late-summer waters of the Gulf of Mexico, Hurricane Rita exploded overnight into the third-most powerful hurricane on record for the Atlantic Basin.

Since the invention of the barometer in the 17th century, a hurricane's lowest barometric pressure reading has become a standardized way for meteorologists to measure a storm's intensity. As of 5 a.m. today the hurricane's strongest winds were blowing at 175 miles an hour (280 kilometers an hour) and the barometric pressure at the storm's center had fallen to 26.51 inches, or 897 millibars. The lowest barometric pressure reading recorded in the Atlantic Basin was Hurricane Gilbert in 1988, with a reading of 26.18 inches, or 888 millibars.

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