Specter of Hurricane Looms Over GOP Convention

Tropical Storm Isaac could turn northward and bear down on Monday's convention opener.


A tropical storm brewing near the Gulf of Mexico threatens to hit Florida, as often happens in August. This year the high winds and heavy rain of Tropical Storm Isaac, which is expected to become a hurricane Thursday, could rain on the parade that is the Republican National Convention in Tampa.

Isaac is currently spinning a few hundred miles southeast of Puerto Rico and moving westward with maximum sustained winds of around 45 miles per hour, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami. Forecasters predict the storm will increase in strength in the next 48 hours as it approaches Cuba and Hispaniola, where it may turn northward towards the Florida peninsula. In that forecast, Issac's effects would reach Tampa at 8 a.m. Monday, the first day of the convention.

"The peak of the Atlantic hurricane season is late August, into early September, therefore the Florida Division of Emergency Management team pays special attention to any weather situation that may arise during this time," the agency said in a statement.

A forecast of the path of Tropical Storm Isaac.

Officials insist they are prepared for any inclement weather during the convention. In May, Florida held a four-day mock hurricane drill in which the scenario was a hurricane hitting Tampa to prepare for the logisical problems a storm would present. The main logisical issue for the agencies involved in that case would be getting people to safety, says Brian Koon, director of FDEM.

"You've got the addition of 50,000 people or so to the area who are not Floridians and are not aware of hurricanes and their impact," Koon says. "If the storm is moving towards Tampa the focus of could shift towards getting delegates to safety."

The hurricane threat looms as the 20-year anniversary of Hurricane Andrew approaches. Andrew, a devastating hurricane that intensified as it neared the South Florida peninsula, struck south of Miami with a vengeance on Aug. 24, 1992. More recently, Tropical Storm Debby lashed the Tampa area with torrential rains in late June.

If Issac were to make landfall in Florida, the convention would be just one of many priorities, Koon says.

"The RNC is going to be a wrinkle," says Koon. "If there's a hurricane going to Tampa or anywhere else in the state, the fuss over the RNC will be short lived."

Koon said more than a dozen different government agencies have been coordinating for a year now, led by the Secret Service.

Seth Cline is a reporter with U.S. News and World Report. Contact him at scline@usnews.com or follow him on Twitter.