Aug. 26, 2012— -- As Tropical Storm Isaac grazed the Florida Keys today with less force than was feared, hurricane warnings were issued for the Gulf Coast from New Orleans to the Florida panhandle.
The storm, which had been expected to the churn up the west coast of Florida, is now forecast to swing further west as it moves north across the Gulf of Mexico. Forecasters said it could reach hurricane force as it moves into the Gulf of Mexico tonight or early Monday morning.
If it hits the Gulf Coast Wednesday morning, as forecasters said is possible, it would come on the seventh anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which killed hundreds of people and flooded 80 percent of New Orleans.
New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu admitted anxiety levels are high.
"The timing of this storm coming on, as fate would have it, the anniversary of Katrina, has everybody in a state and sense of alertness and that is a good thing," he said.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal declared a state of emergency and said he's "strongly advising" people in low lying areas of coastal Louisiana to evacuate ahead of the storm.
"There is a 70 to 80 percent chance we'll have tropical storm winds in southeast Louisiana and again as it moves west you'll see more of our state could potentially be covered, by those wind warnings," Jindal said.
As of 5 p.m., Isaacs winds were whipping at 60 mph, and it appeared that the center of the storm could miss the Florida Keys, but a tornado watch was still in effect for the Keys, Miami and Fort Myers.
Since the storm is apparently moving further west, the Tampa Bay area is not expected to be affected as much as was previously thought, but the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has maintained a tropical storm warning for the area.
Wind gusts of 30 to 40 mph are still possible, with three to six inches of rain likely in the next 24 hours in Tampa.
Fears that Isaac would pound Tampa on Monday led GOP officials to decide to postpone the start of the Republican National Convention, which was scheduled to begin Monday.
According to NOAA forecasts, the storm could gain winds of 105 mph and smashed into the Gulf Coast sometime Tuesday night into Wednesday morning.
"A hurricane watch is in effect for the western Florida Panhandle all the way across to Alabama, Mississippi coast lines, and into south-eastern Louisiana, all the way to Morgan City, including metropolitan New Orleans and Lake Pontchartrain," said Rick Knabb, head of the National Hurricane Center.
Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi now are in the bull's eye for the landfall, including New Orleans, where a state of emergency has been declared. A storm surge of more than 10 feet is possible on the Gulf Coast.
In Louisiana, the governor said people in vulnerable areas should be planning to get out.
"If you live in one of those low lying areas, we would encourage you to start voluntary evacuations today," Jindal said. "we're in contact with local parish leaders as well; some of those areas could be facing mandatory evacuations again tomorrow."
In New Orleans, still getting over the devatation caused by Katrina, Landrieu declared a state of emergency today.
"We are just on high alert," he said. "I know that the anxiety level is high, the storm is somewhat uncertain, out of the abundance of caution, we are beginning to take these precautions as you know as quickly as we can."
In Plaquemines Parish, crews were out working to reinforce the levees against the possible surge,
"We're strengthening the levees, both sides of the river, but we have some new levees that we're covering with plastic on the east bank but a direct hit from a category three, I mean a two or better, we would see some flooding," Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser said.
The Gulf Coast hasn't been hit by a hurricane since 2008, when Dolly, Ike and Gustav all struck the region.
For Florida, the storm has thus far had less of an impact than some had feared.
Brian Bower, manager at the Sloppy Joe's bar in the Florida Keys, said it squalled there for about an hour this afternoon.
"The thought then was still that it was going to be worse and then, you know, the eye of the storm came and that was fairly calm and by that point the tail or the trailing edge is completely disintegrated and the storm was moving off to the west," he said.
"It's sort of a misty rain out there," Bower said. "You know and some of the roads have good sized puddles on them but you know the forecast says that we're going to see you know sort of steady but light rain."
ABC News; Max Golembo, ABC News Radio and The Associated Press contributed to this report.