Could a Hurricane Rock the RNC in Tampa?
Hurricanes are on the horizon; will one hit Tampa during the GOP convention?
August 13, 2012 -- In 14 days the best and brightest of the Republican Party will flock to Tampa for a showdown between Tea Party conservatives and the GOP establishment as the party attempts to coalesce around one man: Mitt Romney.
But as ideas clash inside, a storm could be brewing outside as well. The Republican National Convention is scheduled during the peak of Florida hurricane season. And Tampa Bay is three kinds of vulnerable to the horrific winds, piercing rains and engulfing floods that come with an Atlantic hurricane.
As a coastal city, Tampa is vulnerable to storms spinning west from the coast of Africa, coming north through the Caribbean or swirling east from the Gulf of Mexico.
"They are quite vulnerable to storms from any direction literally," said Dennis Feltgen, spokesman for the National Hurricane Center in Miami. "The worst case scenario is a hurricane approaching from the southwest with the center crossing north of Tampa because it would push the water in Tampa Bay into Tampa and you would have horrific flooding."
The Republican National Convention takes place smack dab in the "heart of hurricane season," Feltgen said. That season became slightly bleaker last week when the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association tacked an additional three storms onto its predictions.
NOAA said Thursday that it expects between 12 and 17 storms with winds exceeding 39 mph, and two or three could be major hurricanes with winds of at least 111 mph.
But while hurricane season as a whole may have more storms than first expected, Feltgen said there is no way to know if those storms are headed for Tampa.
"That kind of long range science does not exist," Feltgen said. "There is some good skill in looking at the overall season over the entire six month period, but I cannot tell you with any scientific skill where the storms will form, let alone if they are going to make landfall."
Since NOAA began keeping track in 1852, the Tampa area has weathered 27 hurricanes. Six of those have made landfall in the month of August, the month of this year's GOP convention.
The area's most recent hurricane, Charley, blew through in 2004. The category 4 storm was originally projected to storm straight into Tampa, but made a last-minute change of direction, hitting about 130 miles south. It brought 150 mph winds and caused $15 billion in damages.
The Republican National Convention, Secret Service and federal, state and local authorities have been planning for a "multitude" of hurricane scenarios for "well over a year," said Bryan Koon, Florida's emergency management director. RNC spokesman James Davis would not give details of those plans, saying only that they are "focused completely on having a great convention."
"Anything can happen and there are certainly things outside of your control, but we are comfortable we have the contingency plans in place," Davis said.
As far as bad weather goes, a hurricane is "the largest threat" to the convention, Koon said.
"But it's not the most likely," he said. "A severe thunderstorm that produces lightning or 90-plus degree days with high humidity are far more likely but their impact is far less."
While the RNC would not divulge much information about contingency plans, Koon said the planning groups have discussed cutting the convention short or "whatever would be necessary" to keep people safe "given the circumstances of that particular storm."
About 50,000 delegates, journalists and protestors are expected to flock to Tampa to witness Mitt Romney become the official Republican presidential nominee. But Koon said the visitors make up only a "small part of what the overall effort would be "if a hurricane approached.
"It adds a wrinkle to what we do," Koon said. "As size of gatherings go, the RNC is not one of the largest we have to deal with. It's something we can incorporate to how we do business."
Republicans have held their nomination convention in hurricane-prone cities four times in the past 50 years, and all of them went off without a weather catastrophe. But 13 years after GOP delegates filled Houston's Astrodome, Hurricane Rita rocked its exterior and refugees from Hurricane Katrina filled its field.
Seventeen years before America's deadliest hurricane smashed into New Orleans, Republicans descended on the city for their 1988 convention.
So how likely is it that Mother Nature's fury with collide with Republican's political frenzy?
"The odds of getting a hurricane at any one place at any one time are not that great," Feltgen said. "Life doesn't stop because you're hurricane prone. You just prepared for it."
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