Tampa mayor will call off convention if TS Isaac threatens; storm strengthens

August 22, 2012 

Tampa won't hesitate to pull the plug on the Republican National Convention next week if Tropical Storm Isaac threatens the Tampa Bay area as a major storm, Mayor Bob Buckhorn told CNN Wednesday morning.

"Well, absolutely, we're prepared to call it off," Buckhorn said on the network's Early Start with John Berman. "I mean, safety and human life trump politics. I think the RNC recognizes that. The organizers, certainly Gov. (Mitt) Romney, recognize that."

The chances that Isaac, which is churning in the Atlantic Ocean toward the Caribbean Sea, will hit the Bay area still remain small. But it did strike as a hurricane, the impact would be enormous. And with thousands of extra visitors in the area for the convention, community leaders would have the added responsibility of assuring their safety.

The convention is scheduled to run Monday through Thursday.

"Whatever we do will be based on getting people out of harm’s way," Buckhorn told CNN. "Politics will take second place. All of us recognize that. The RNC recognized that when the picked Tampa as the host city."

Isaac is forecast to pass near or south of Hispaniola in the general direction of eastern Cuba from Friday into the weekend. Along the way, numerous variables will determine whether it threatens Florida or any other part of the southeastern United States.

The storm could become a hurricane by Thursday. A Hurricane Watch was issued Tuesday night for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

"The Spaghetti plots show agreement of a turn to the northwest," Bay News 9 meteorologist Juli Marquez said. "It's something we will continue to watch over the next few days."

The "what if" question had hovered like a distant black cloud ever since Tampa was awarded a Republican National Convention to be held in the middle of hurricane season.

With that convention now less than a week away and Tropical Storm Isaac now brewing in the Atlantic, the prospect of the system becoming a major storm and impacting the event is creating palpable anxiety.

Even so, RNC Host Committee CEO Ken Jones said Tuesday that he's not yet worried. Jones said that if a storm arrives during the RNC, the responsibility to get everyone out safely will fall to the Federal Emergency Management Agency and emergency management team.

According to Bay News 9, Isaac is about 210 east of the island of Guadeloupe with winds near 45 mph at 11 a.m. Wednesday.

Isaac's center is near latitude 15.7 north, longitude 58.4 west. The storm is moving toward the west near 19 mph and this general motion is expected to continue for the next couple of days.

On the forecast track, the center of Isaac should move through the Leeward Islands this evening and move over the northeastern Caribbean Sea on Thursday.

Tropical storm warnings are in effect for the Leeward Islands, Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, according to the National Weather Service. And a hurricane watch is in effect for Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and the southern coast of the Dominican Republic.

In a normal forecasting environment, it would be way too early to get nervous about a weather system so far away, but next week's convention has created an abnormal situation for the state and the the Bay area. The host committee has stated there is a detailed plan in place to deal with a storm, but officials wouldn't provide much more detail.

What officials have said is that authorities will make sure everyone is safe, first and foremost, and then it will be up to the GOP to make sure Mitt Romney is officially nominated as the party's candidate. "You've got to get that legal function out of the way," Jones said. "Once you figure how to do that without anybody getting hurt, you make sure people are safe you get them out of town and to an alternate location."

RNC organizers caught a snippet Monday night and into Tuesday of what could happen if stormy weather impacts the event.

An ordinary Florida thunderstorm blew threw Monday night and damaged parts of a walkway and other rented areas outside the Tampa Bay Forum. Torrential rain Tuesday has added to the weather pattern most Floridians consider typical, but may come as a surprise for visitors to the area.

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