Hurricane forecasts heighten anxiety about GOP convention

Concerns that Tropical Storm Isaac might affect the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., mounted with forecasts late Wednesday showing the city remains under threat of a hurricane when the event opens on Monday. 

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The National Hurricane Center, in its 8 p.m. EDT forecast update, showed the Florida city in the center of its five-day “forecast cone” of uncertainty, which projects the potential path of the storm. 

The future intensity and track of the brewing storm remains highly uncertain, and computer models predict Isaac could track west of Tampa into the Gulf Coast, or swing east and miss Florida altogether. 

Florida Gov. Rick Scott said Wednesday the state's emergency officials are preparing for a potential U.S. landfall, including the possibility of a hit on the GOP convention city. He warned Floridians to monitor the storm and make emergency plans. 

“Although Tropical Storm Isaac is still far from Florida’s shores, we are closely tracking the potential for the storm to impact part or all of the state, including the Tampa Bay region during the Republican National Convention,” Scott, who is scheduled to address GOP delegates Monday, said in a statement. 

“As Florida’s governor, I’m urging everyone across the state to monitor the storm track, and use the next several days to prepare for a potential storm. As we know, storms this far from land are still unpredictable and everyone should be vigilant and prepared.”

State officials have been working with Republican convention planners for more than a year, and “the possibility of a hurricane hitting the convention has been part of that planning process,” Scott said. 

“I am confident in our preparation and the decision process in place to ensure the safety of both our residents and visitors during the convention.”

Isaac had sustained winds near 45 miles per hours and moved through the Leeward Islands late Wednesday. 

The storm was expected to pass near or south of the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico on Thursday, and approach the Dominican Republic on Thursday night and Friday, possibly as a hurricane. 

“Current projections bring Isaac, now a strengthening tropical storm, to Florida's neighborhood during the first part of next week,” Alex Sosnowski, a senior meteorologist at AccuWeather.com’s Hurricane Center, wrote Wednesday afternoon

“If the [Florida] peninsula remains in the middle of current AccuWeather.com Hurricane Center window of movement projections, conditions will deteriorate with increasing thunderstorms ... winds, heavy rain and building seas from south to north Sunday night to Tuesday.”

By the time it nears Florida, AccuWeather forecasts, Isaac could be a Category 1 hurricane, with winds between 74 and 95 miles per hour. 

Jeff Masters, a meteorologist with Weather Underground, estimates there is currently a 25 percent chance Isaac will make landfall in south Florida, a 40 percent chance it will move west over the Gulf of Mexico and a 35 percent chance it will track along Florida’s east coast.  

“Where Isaac pops off the coast of Cuba will be critical in determining its future path and intensity,” Masters wrote. 

The mere prospect that a hurricane might crash the GOP’s Florida party adds an unwelcome — and unpredictable — twist for organizers already dealing with the substantial logistical and security challenges of mounting a national political convention. 

“The convention is working closely with our partners at the federal, state and local levels to monitor the weather — and we have contingency plans in place to ensure the health and safety of convention delegates, guests and visitors, and the Tampa Bay community,” Kyle Downey, a GOP convention spokesman, said in a statement to The Hill. 

Bob Buckhorn, the mayor of Tampa, told CNN he is "not really worried about [Isaac] yet" but added there would be no hesitation delaying or even moving the convention if the storm were to threaten the city. 

“Well, absolutely we're prepared to call it off,” Buckhorn said. “I mean, human safety and human life trumps politics. I think the [Republican National Committee] recognizes that … Whatever we do will be based on getting people out of harm's way. Politics will take second place.”

GOP convention organizers expect tens of thousands of people to descend on Tampa beginning this weekend in preparation for the convention, which is set to begin Monday and end Thursday with the nomination of Mitt Romney as the party’s official presidential nominee. 

In addition to Romney and other high-profile Republican leaders, Vice President Biden is slated to be in Tampa on Monday for his own campaign event. 

The planned presence of national leaders in Florida adds a new wrinkle to the state’s emergency plan if Tropical Storm Isaac were to force an evacuation during the Republican National Convention, Bryan Koon, head of Florida’s Division of Emergency Management, told The Hill. 

But Koon said those individuals will likely need the least amount of help in the unlikely event of an evacuation.

“If a real hurricane makes landfall in Tampa next week, dealing with the [Republican convention] will be important, but it will obviously be a small part of everything we are doing as our total effort in the state,” Koon said.

The Republican Party has some recent unpleasant history with hurricanes and conventions. 

Four years ago at the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis-St. Paul, GOP organizers canceled some opening-day events when Hurricane Gustav struck the coast of Louisiana. 

This story was updated at 8:05 p.m.