Tampa may escape the full brunt of hurricane force winds next week, but it appears increasingly likely that the Republican National Convention won’t be able to avoid some impact from what is now Tropical Storm Isaac.
A significant weather event is likely to cause high winds and rain in the Tampa Bay area, even if the storm sticks to its current track and has a more significant effect farther west on the Gulf Coast.
And even if the physical threat to the city and an expected 50,000 visitors passes, convention planners will have to assess whether to tone down parties or cancel events out of respect to other communities dealing with the storm.
As of late Friday, Isaac was swirling with winds at 65 mph and was headed toward a collision with Hispaniola. Forecasting models show the storm moving off Cuba on Sunday. It’s expected to intensify before making landfall along the Gulf Coast coastline between Louisiana and Florida early Tuesday, according to the National Weather Service.
“If this stays even just a couple hundred miles offshore, the tropical storm-force winds still extend out, so the peninsula of Florida, in general and Tampa Bay — of course — they’re not out of the woods at all,” said Dennis Feltgen, a spokesman for the National Hurricane Center in Miami.
Many variables could affect the storm’s intensity and track.
It could sit over Cuba for an extended period of time, weakening. Or it could swing south of the island and gain strength over water.
Willie Puz, a spokesman for Hillsborough County, which includes Tampa, urged convention goers to be alert and keep an eye on the weather.
Local and federal officials have been planning for a year to prepare, he said. “There are plans in place. Everybody’s on board. We’re in close, coordinated cooperation,” he said. “This isn’t going to be a surprise. No one’s going to be left in the dark.”
His advice to delegates, members of the media and others making their way to Tampa this weekend? “Plan on coming down, having fun and having a great convention. But also, be mindful that it’s hurricane season in Florida. It’s everybody’s responsibility to do a little preparation.”
On the preparation list: raincoats and galoshes. Umbrellas won’t be allowed into the perimeter near the convention because of security concerns.
At a rally in Commerce, Mich., on Friday, Mitt Romney joked that the weather “may be a little iffy” for the convention. But he quickly transitioned: “We’re going to be there, and we’re not just going to talk about platitudes, not gonna talk about small things. We’re going to talk about these big challenges and how we’re going to overcome them.”
But party officials are still watching the storm’s track closely.
Four years ago, organizers of the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis significantly scaled back activities for a day out of respect for those suffering the effects of Hurricane Gustav.
Dan Stillman contributed to this report.