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Hurricane Isaac Threatens Tampa and GOP Convention

Isaac, the tropical storm that just hit the Caribbean and that’s bearing down on Haiti and Cuba as it transforms itself into a hurricane, is expected to hit the southwestern Florida coast on the same day that the Republican National Convention opens in Tampa.

The path of the storm is being closely watched by the commodities markets and also by convention planners, who are praying that mother nature doesn’t rain on Mitt Romney’s nominating parade.

“At this point the error in our forecasts is so huge that it’s very difficult to tell what the risks would be,” said Jeff Masters, co-founder of Weather Underground in Ann Arbor, Michigan. “We’re not going to have an idea until Sunday at the earliest what kind of risk this poses to Tampa. It’s quite the drama.”

The orange juice and natural gas futures would be affected by a hurricane on the shores, so those markets actually gained yesterday because prices would shoot up.

“We’re paying extremely close attention to it,” Florida’s emergency management director, Bryan Koon, told Bloomberg. “We anticipate there will be impact to the state next week. But exactly where and how much remains to be seen.”
Isaac, which is the ninth named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season, was expected to pass near or south of the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico later today. It was 65 miles (110 kilometers) southwest of Guadeloupe and moving west at 21 miles per hour. The system’s maximum sustained winds were 45 mph, below the minimum 74 mph speed of a Category 1 hurricane.

It may become a hurricane by tomorrow, return to tropical-storm level over Haiti and Cuba during the weekend and then regain hurricane strength en route to Florida, the agency said.

Florida Governor Rick Scott urged residents to be prepared. Preliminary hearings scheduled to start today in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, were postponed by an Army judge because of the storm threat.

“It’s going to be in the general vicinity of Florida in the first part of next week when the Republican National Convention is going on,” Sosnowski said. “Even without a direct hit, it could mean travel impacts.”

If the Tampa Bay area is expected to receive rain from the outskirts of the storm, the convention would probably proceed as normal, Koon said. If a direct impact looks probable, Koon said he’ll talk with convention officials about how to move delegates and reporters.

“Our concern from the state level is going to be the Floridians who live in the area,” Koon said. “Delegates who come down generally have the means to get back to where they need to go.”

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