Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn caused a sensation earlier Wednesday when he told CNN that “absolutely we’re prepared to” call off next week’s Republican National Convention if Tropical Storm Isaac makes it necessary. Buckhorn is a Democrat, so of course this caused immediate talk of possible political motives:
Buckhorn is an Obama fan. He said of a Barack Obama speech in June, “The president laid out a blueprint today that will create value-added jobs, grow our economy and tackle the deficit. He made it clear to us in Tampa that he has the right vision to guide this nation’s economic future.” If there is legitimate danger to the population of Tampa, he certainly has the responsibility to cancel the convention. But if he’s too quick on the trigger, we’ll all know why.
The trouble is, the way Isaac’s path and intensity forecasts are evolving, it may not be all that easy to differentiate “legitimate danger” from “too quick on the trigger.” It is entirely possible that an evacuation will be absolutely necessary — and yet will look completely silly in retrospect, at least superficially.
Here’s the thing. Isaac is presently expected to basically parallel the northeast coast of Cuba, then basically parallel the west coast of Florida. That forecast could still change drastically — computer models Wednesday have been calling for scenarios as divergent as a New Orleans catastrophe and a Category 4 strike on Florida’s east coast, and plenty of other possibilities to boot — but if Isaac stays on the basic path that the NHC is currently projecting, this is going to be an unusually tricky wicket for forecasters and planners, made even trickier by the RNC.
If Isaac follows roughly the expected track over the next 72 hours, I suspect that the forecasts of U.S. landfall location and intensity will remain highly uncertain, unusually late in the game, simply because of the storm’s angle of approach and proximity to land. With this large storm approaching at the expected angle after hitting Hispaniola and Cuba, the Tampa Bay area — and other places in Florida — would be forced to make important preparedness decisions (including, possibly, whether to postpone or cancel the RNC) at a time when very small variations in the storm’s track could lead to very large differences in outcome.
Imagine, for instance, that it’s 8:00 PM Saturday, and Isaac is hugging the coast of Cuba at the spot presently forecast by the NHC:
At that point, Isaac would likely be a weak hurricane or strong tropical storm, having strengthened somewhat Thursday and Friday but then weakened due to interaction with Hispaniola and eastern Cuba. It would be poised to weaken further, maybe to a middling tropical storm, as it moves west over or near Cuba. So we’d be talking about a weakening storm (weakening temporarily…probably), with an uncertain track, triggering potential widespread and politically charged evacuations.