WASHINGTON -- While Republican Party officials remained silent on how national convention plans would be affected if a hurricane strikes Tampa, Fla., next week, the city was already saturated from heavy rains and bracing for the next wave.
Thunderstoms stalled over the region have swollen rivers to near-flood levels in recent days, Nicole Carlisle, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, told told HuffPost's sister site, Patch.com. As of Friday, flood warnings remained in effect for much of Hillsborough County, which includes Tampa.
The National Hurricane Center issued a Tropical Storm Watch for large swaths of South Florida, which means dangerously high winds and rain are possible in less than 48 hours. Tropical Storm Isaac is projected to grow into a full-fledged hurricane over the weekend, and its effects will likely span a radius of at least 185 miles, an area that includes Tampa, according to the National Hurricane Center.
Though new predictions show Isaac striking the Florida Keys early Monday, then heading north to the Florida panhandle, Tampa -- especially with all the recent rain -- remains vulnerable. The storm is likely to pass the city late Monday, when more than 50,000 visitors will have arrived for the four-day GOP convention, according to predictions. Even if the storm fails to strike Florida's west coast directly, forecasters place Tampa well within the area of dangerously high rainfall and ocean swells.
Tampa's topography also contributes to potentially serious storm damage. A shallow ocean shelf extends nearly 100 miles from southwestern Florida into the Gulf of Mexico, and tends to trap storm water and push it onto land, rather than back out to sea. The circular Tampa Bay also acts as a water trap, and tides tend to rise quickly in heavy rains.
All of which is bad news for the Tampa Bay Convention Center, situated a mere six feet above sea level on Tampa Bay. Should the bloated bay waters rise further with the storm's new rainfall, flooding may threaten the heart of the Republican convention.
Convention organizers haven't commented on weather contingency plans.
Tampa's Democratic mayor, Bob Buckhorn, said Friday he is more focused on convention planning than on preparing for Isaac.
"We're ready for this storm, if it were to come," Buckhorn told the Weather Channel. "But we don't think it will. So we really are now more focused with putting on a great event for the Republican National Convention."
Friday marked the 20th anniversary of Hurricane Andrew, a catastrophic 1992 hurricane that destroyed more than 100,000 homes in Florida and caused 65 deaths nationwide. But there were likely other considerations for the mayor. Tampa is poised to reap approximately $175 million in revenue from convention visitors next week, a fact which has been on the minds of Buckhorn and city convention planners for more than a year.
Cuba, Haiti and the Dominican Republic all braced for direct hits from the storm late Friday and into the weekend. In Florida, emergency management officials prepared citizens for the potential impact of the storm.
“The most important thing is to be prepared with an emergency plan and disaster supply kit to ensure that you and your family members are ready,” said Gov. Rick Scott (R) on Friday afternoon.The Red Cross mobilized nearly 1,000 disaster workers and prepared to open "dozens of shelters if needed." The relief group also announced in a tweet that it had "pre-stocked 30,000 ready-to-eat meals in Florida."
In the Tampa Bay area, more than 800,000 people live within the evacuation zone for a Category 1 hurricane, which isn't in the immediate forecast.
NOTE: If your area is at risk for flooding, the Federal Emergency Management Agency's website, Ready.gov contains useful information about how to prepare and stay safe in the event of a flood.