(TAMPA, Fla.) — Florida Gov. Rick Scott Thursday sought to calm fears about a possible hurricane’s threatening to close down the Republican National Convention next week in Tampa, telling reporters that “right now there is not any anticipation there will be a cancellation.”
Scott said it is “still too early” to know exactly where Tropical Storm Isaac, which is expected to intensify into a hurricane by Friday, will hit Florida and, thus, too early to make evacuation plans or call off the convention.
By most predictions, bad weather looms ahead for Tampa next week as heavy rains and strong winds are likely to pound the city early Tuesday morning, less than 24 hours after the start of the Republican National Convention.
Tropical Storm Isaac is heading along a western track, dumping rain on Puerto Rico Thursday morning and swirling about 1,200 miles off the Florida coast as of 11 a.m., according to the National Hurricane Center.
“The hope is this is going to go away, but if it doesn’t, the convention is ready, the state is ready and the local communities are ready,” Scott said.
While prediction models are notoriously inaccurate this far in advance, Isaac is projected to slam into Haiti Saturday morning and hit Florida about 100 miles west of Tampa in the early hours of Tuesday morning. The city, which by then will be buzzing with about 50,000 Republican delegates, journalists and protesters, could see 70 mph winds, coastal flooding and heavy rains.
“It will be a dangerous situation,” ABC meteorologist Max Golembo said. “It’s somewhere between the galoshes and Noah’s Ark.”
Golembo gave the storm a 50 percent chance of hitting Tampa. After the storm passes over the high mountains of Haiti and the Dominican Republic, where it is expected to dump 20 inches of rain and cause mudslides and flooding, and through Cuba Sunday morning, prediction models will have a clearer picture of how damaging the storm could be for the Tampa Bay area.
While Isaac looks to be heading farther west of Tampa than originally projected, it will likely deliver hurricane-force winds of 75 mph or greater, strong enough to break windows, down trees and damage roofs, Golembo said.
If winds exceed 45 mph, some of the bridges connecting downtown Tampa, where the bulk of the GOP convention action will be, with the hotels where some delegates are staying, will have to be closed, said Bryan Koon, director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management.
“There are a lot of low-lying areas in the Tampa Bay area that could be flooded as a result of this, and some of those may be locations where the delegates are housed,” Koon said. “Beautiful location, wonderful hotels, but they’re oceanfront, so they may be impacted by some storm surge issues.”
Both the Tampa Bay Times Forum and the Tampa Convention Center, where the majority of the Republican National Convention’s events will take place, overlook the bay and are in evacuation zones.
“If you get a large enough storm in there, there is the potential that the storm surge could drive water up towards them and cause some flooding issues,” Koon added.
Republican National Committee spokesman James Davis told ABC News Tuesday that he was “confident we will be able to get the business done of our convention, which is to nominate Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan.”
“We are monitoring the storm and we will have more information if it comes closer,” Davis said. “Right now, we are looking forward to having a great convention.”
Presumptive vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan said Tuesday night that he did not know what the Republican National Committee’s plans were for dealing with any bad weather, only that the committee has a plan.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Nate Eaton, EastIdahoNews.com
Sara Weber, CNN
Eric Bradner, Jeff Zeleny and Shimon Prokupecz, CNN
Jackson Adams, Teton Valley News