What Happens if Isaac Hits Tampa During the GOP Convention?

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Aug. 22 2012 2:25 PM

What Happens if Isaac Hits Tampa During the GOP Convention?

Isaac (left) reached tropical storm status and is approaching the Lesser Antilles islands as it moves westward on Aug. 22, 2012
Isaac (left) reached tropical storm status and is approaching the Lesser Antilles islands as it moves westward on Aug. 22, 2012

Photo by NOAA via Getty Images.

With Isaac threatening to wash out the Republican National Convention next week, organizers have been quick to assure the public that there are backup plans in place. What exactly those are, however, they're not saying. Which is only making us wonder even more about how they would deploy a Plan B for an event, months in the making, that's supposed to attract an estimated 50,000 travelers to Tampa? 

In May, Florida officials held a mock hurricane drill for an imaginary storm they nicknamed "Gispert." Gispert was scheduled to hit on the second day of the convention, and was powerful enough to flood large areas of Tampa. In that scenario, state officials said that they likely would have postponed the event, a decision that would ultimately rest with Florida Gov. Rick Scott. "Public safety. That's going to be the number one priority," Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carrol said then. "We can have the convention again."

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It's unclear if the GOP would be willing to weather the delay or not. The most convention organizers will say, according to Tampa Bay Online, is that their emergency backup plan involves moving the event to another, unspecified, location, or possibly holding some convention business online.

Ultimately, however, it appears as though organizers will be at the mercy of the weather and the state's desire to play things safe. The extra visitors to the area, many of whom will be staying at beachside hotels in Pinellas County (a peninsula with limited access in and out), may cause officials to evacuate vulnerable areas early, WTSP reports. 

Although a direct hit by Isaac would be the first in 90 years for Tampa, planners got something of a mini-preview of a logistical nightmare on Monday night when a quarter-mile air-conditioned tent designed to coolly shuffle convention-goers from one temperature-controlled building to the other was damaged by a storm, according to TBO.

Because national conventions typically happen during a time of year ripe for hurricanes and other storms, this isn't the first time one would be affected by the weather. In 2008, Hurricane Gustav made landfall in Louisiana just as Republicans were kicking off their convention in St. Paul, Minn. That led GOP organizers to cancel a host of opening-day events and scale down other parts of the planned festivities.

Abby Ohlheiser is a Slate contributor.