It's official: Tropical Storm Isaac is a Republican. Why else would it be headed toward Tampa? (Or is it protesting the GOP convention?) Now located below the Dominican Republic, the gyrating tempest is slowly gathering strength on its northwestern journey toward Florida.
Will comb-overs get blown to smithereens? Seersucker suits wetted down into 20-pound anchors? Convention planners eviscerated for choosing a location along the Gulf of Mexico during hurricane season, swing state be damned?
It's certainly looking like the storm will visit Florida in one form or another early next week. Whether it's strong enough to cause major property damage and drive conventioneers into the sheltered toilet stalls at the Tampa Bay Times Forum arena is still an open question. Here's an appraisal, though.
Isaac is expected to keep approaching the continental United States at a rate of about 15 m.p.h. through Saturday, according to the National Hurricane Center. It's not fully organized but is still spinning winds of about 45 m.p.h. and is predicted to slow down, then whirl faster, possibly swelling into a full-blown hurricane today (just in time to threaten Haiti, naturally). While hovering over Hispaniola, the storm could drop 8 to 12 inches of rain, or in the worst-case scenario, a flying ocean measuring 20 inches deep.
One prominent weather model, the ECMWF, is showing Isaac wandering into the middle of the Gulf of Mexico by Monday or Tuesday. If it's far enough out in the wilderness of the open sea, Isaac isn't as much of a problem... unless you live in Texas or Louisiana. However, two other simulations think it will crawl up the Florida peninsula, howling and squirting rain all over the place. So that's a big chunk of uncertainty, there, and one that GOP convention officials are no doubt fiercely debating. Everything should become clearer in the next day or so as the Air Force Reserve's "Hurricane Hunter" planes conduct raids through the ever-changing storm. (For updates on Isaac's path, try checking NOAA's hurricane center and the Tampa office of the National Weather Service.)
Speculation is rife in the weather community on Isaac's journey. Here are a few of the opinions that experts offered on Thursday afternoon and evening:
Brian McNoldy, posting at the Capital Weather Gang: "This storm will have a large impact on the Republican National Convention being held in Tampa next week. It’s certainly possible that air travel into Tampa will be hindered in the Sunday-Wednesday timeframe, in addition to the strong winds, heavy rain, and possible storm surge during the event.... The city is also very prone to storm surge due to its location at the end of a bay... and the convention center is rather poorly sited for surge: right on the far tip of the bay where water has nowhere else to go, and not even 200 feet from the water’s edge."
Alex Sosnowski of AccuWeather: "According to Dan Kottlowski, head of the AccuWeather.com Hurricane Center, 'Given Isaac's current position and momentum in the Caribbean, the storm is much more likely to track into the Gulf of Mexico than to track along the east coast of Florida.'... This track will bring the moist, stormy eastern side of the tropical system over much of the Florida Peninsula. Bands of torrential rain, gusty winds, building seas, thunderstorms and the potential for a few tornadoes are typical characteristics in this scenario over the peninsula."
Greg Forbes of the Weather Channel: "T. S. Isaac is still struggling to get organized, and there is still a difference between numerical models on its path from Monday onward. Isaac will likely pass south of the FL Keys on Sunday, but then could continue northwestward toward somewhere from the FL panhandle to perhaps as far west as Beaumont/Port Arthur TX."
While we're all twiddling are thumbs over Isaac's exact target, let's watch this time-lapse video of the storm truckin' along:
Top graphic from Thursday evening shows the probabilities of sustained surface wind speeds of or above 39 m.p.h all through Tuesday. Courtesy of the National Hurricane Center.