- Tropical Depression Two Forms
Tropical Storm Isaac could become a hurricane when it reaches the Florida Keys sometime Sunday, with weather conditions expected to deteriorate in southern Florida in the near future. The storm's projected track has shifted slightly to the west again, and and remained a possible threat to Tampa, Fla., where the National Republican Convention's events have been postponed from Monday to Tuesday.
(MORE: No Plans to Cancel Convention)
Florida officials organized shelters and urged vacationers to leave the Florida Keys as Tropical Storm Isaac approached on Saturday, though preparations farther north focused on getting ready for the Republican National Convention.
Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency to make sure local and state agencies would be ready. The governor said during a media briefing that delegates were being told on how to stay safe during a storm, and officials were ready for storm surge, bridge closures and other problems that could arise during the convention. He also said he was in close communication with local, state and federal agencies, as well as convention officials.
"We are a hospitality state. We know how to take care of people and we want to ensure their safety," Scott said Saturday.
AP Photo/Alan Diaz
Dr. Lixion Avila, senior hurricane specialist, foreground, updates Dr. Rick Knabb, director of the National Hurricane Center, on developing tropical storms Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2012, at the National Hurricane Center in Miami.
Dr. Rick Knabb, director of the National Hurricane Center, said the storm has shifted in a way that could lead to Isaac, already a huge tropical storm, to increase in intensity.
"Over the last several days we've been talking about how interdependent the track intensity forecasts are in this case relative how much time the center of Isaac spends over land on the way from the Caribbean to Florida," said Dr. Knabb, on The Weather Channel. "Unfortunately for the U.S., it took a path of least resistance by going in between Haiti and Cuba. There is still some interaction with terrain there disrupting circulation somewhat. But, compared to yesterday, we're more confident -- unfortunately for Florida -- that it's going to take a path that spends more time over the land mass of Cuba that we thought possible yesterday."
Still, the storm was days away from the Panhandle. It was sunny and breezy on the beach Saturday in Pensacola, with people out strolling and playing in the sand. Condo associations told people to move furniture inside, but full-scale preparations hadn't yet begun. Waves weren't yet big enough for surfers.
Miami-Dade schools will remain closed on Monday, but would open Tuesday. The Port of Miami was scheduled to close Sunday night at 11 p.m.
In the Keys, officials said they would open storm shelters and urged vacationers to leave. State officials warned Isaac was a massive storm -- even though the eye may not pass over Tampa, tropical storm-force winds extended 230 miles from the center.
Key West International Airport halted all flights at 7 p.m. Saturday until the storm passes. At Miami International Airport, seven flights were cancelled Saturday, including six to and from Port-au-Prince as well as one departure flight to Key West. Airport spokesman Greg Chin said all flights stop only when sustained winds reach 50 mph and the Federal Aviation Administration tower closes and flights cannot be directed. Otherwise, it is the airlines' decision whether to operate flights.
Officials were handing out sandbags to residents in the Tampa area, which often floods when heavy rainstorms hit. Sandbags also were being handed out in Homestead, 20 years after Hurricane Andrew devastated the community there.
Knabb said he expects conditions to begin "to go downhill" in Florida early Sunday, adding that he is "concerned about southwest Florida, not just the southeast, because they're very, very vulnerable to storm surge down there, and, as of our 8 a.m. advisory, we're talking about the potential for 5-to-7 feet of storm surge inundation in portions of the coastal areas of southwestern Florida.
Said Knabb: "The intensity (of Isaac), even if it remains over water, is still uncertain. We can't 100 percent guarantee that a hurricane is going to cross over the Keys of southern Florida, but the chances are high enough that we're forecasting that, and there is a hurricane warning down there."
AP Photo/The Tampa Bay Times, Willie J. Allen Jr.
A security fence surrounds the Tampa Bay Times Forum, site of the site of the Republican National Committee, Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2012, in Tampa, Fla.
A hurricane warning had been issued for the Keys, though it was still a sunny day in Tampa. Forecast models show Isaac won't hit Tampa head-on, but the storm will still likely lash the city with rain and strong winds just as the convention ramps up. Protests were to start in full force on Sunday afternoon, and demonstrators have vowed that they will make their presence known rain or shine.
Isaac was blamed for at least four deaths after dousing flood-prone Haiti and left damage and flooding in eastern Cuba on Saturday. It was forecast to hit the Keys late Sunday or early Monday, and it then could bring stormy conditions to Florida's west coast before moving to the Panhandle.
According to Dr. Jeff Masters of Weather Underground, there have been five storms since 1900 with an intensity similar to Isaac, which crossed over both Haiti and Cuba, then emerged into the Florida Straits.
These five storms strengthened by 5 to 20 mph in their first 24 hours after coming off the coast of Cuba. One went on to become the deadliest disaster in American history -- the Great Galveston Hurricane.
Isaac is a "huge storm. The effects will be felt well before the center passes through until well after,'' said Carl Parker, hurricane specialist on The Weather Channel.
AP Photo/Dieu Nalio Chery
Residents wade through a flooded street triggered by Tropical Storm Isaac in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Saturday, Aug. 25, 2012.
In the Haitian shantytown of Cite Soleil, just north of Port-au-Prince, about 300 homes had either their roofs blown off or sitting in three feet (one meter) of water, according to Rachel Brumbaugh, operation manager for the U.S. nonprofit group World Vision.
"From last night, we're in misery," said Cite Soleil resident Jean-Gymar Joseph. "All our children are sleeping in the mud, in the rain."
More than 50 tents in a quake settlement collapsed, forcing people to scramble through the mud to try to save their belongings.
Cuba declared a state of alert Friday for six eastern provinces and five central provinces were put on preliminary watch. Vacationers in tourist installations of those regions were evacuated.
State television began an all-day transmission of news about the storm on Saturday.
Radio Baracoa, from the city of Baracoa on the northern coast of eastern Cuba, reported that high seas began topping the city's seawall Friday night. Reports said lower-than-normal rains had left reservoirs well below capacity and in good shape to absorb runoff.
Cuba has a highly organized civil defense system that goes door-to-door to enforce evacuations of at-risk areas, largely averting casualties from storms even when they cause major flooding and significant damage to crops.
Near the island's southeastern tip, the U.S. military was expecting winds of up to 40 mph at the Guantanamo Bay naval base, said Navy Capt. Robert Durand, a spokesman for the prison there.
Ahead of the storm, roads were closed to all but emergency vehicles, the Navy had suspended the ferry service that connects the two sections of the base across Guantanamo Bay and many smaller craft had been pulled from the water, Durand said. All 168 prisoners were in buildings capable of withstanding storm-force winds and the guards were bunking inside prison facilities instead of returning to their quarters for the night.
One hurricane and three tropical storms have hit the base since the U.S. military opened a detention center on the base in January.
(MORE: Guantanamo Prepares for Isaac)
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.