Tampa won't hesitate to pull the plug on the Republican National Convention next week if Tropical Storm Isaac threatens the Tampa Bay area as a major storm, Mayor Bob Buckhorn told CNN this morning.
"Well, absolutely, we're prepared to call it off," Buckhorn said on the network's Early Start with John Berman. "I mean, safety and human life trump politics. I think the RNC recognizes that. The organizers, certainly Gov. (Mitt) Romney, recognize that."
The chances that Isaac, which is churning in the Atlantic Ocean toward the Caribbean Sea, will hit the Bay area still remain small. But if it did strike as a hurricane, the impact would be enormous. And with thousands of extra visitors in the area for the convention, community leaders would have the added responsibility of assuring their safety.
The convention is scheduled to run Monday through Thursday.
"Whatever we do will be based on getting people out of harm’s way," Buckhorn told CNN. "Politics will take second place. All of us recognize that. The RNC recognized that when they picked Tampa as the host city."
Isaac was centered 280 miles east of Guadeloupe and moving west at around 18 mph this morning. A Hurricane Watch has been issued for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
"A turn to the northwest is expected at the end of the week, which would possibly take it over Hispaniola and Cuba," Bay News 9 meteorologist Juli Marquez said.
"We will have to see how it interacts with land, because there is plenty of warm water between Cuba and Florida," she said. "Most of the computer models show Isaac turning northwest, but some show that turn happening earlier than others."
Our previous story picks up here:
The "what if" question had hovered like a distant black cloud ever since Tampa was awarded a Republican National Convention to be held in the middle of hurricane season.
With that convention now less than a week away and Tropical Storm Isaac now brewing in the Atlantic, the prospect of the system becoming a major storm and impacting the event is creating palpable anxiety.
- THE LATEST: Tropical Storm Isaac nearing Caribbean
Even so, RNC Host Committee CEO Ken Jones said Tuesday that he's not yet worried. Jones said that if a storm arrives during the RNC, the responsibility to get everyone out safely will fall to the Federal Emergency Management Agency and emergency management team.
With Isaac some 2,500 miles away from Tampa, the Bay News 9 Weather Experts expected it to be upgraded Tuesday and it was made official at the 5 p.m. advisory. Computer models show it tracking west toward the Caribbean Sea, where it could very well threaten the southeastern United States, including Florida.
"If it gets into the Caribbean over warm waters with light shear, this storm could easily become a hurricane," Bay News 9 Meteorologist Diane Kacmarik said earlier Tuesday. "We're going to keep an eye on this one very closely."
In a normal forecasting environment, it would be way too early to get nervous about a weather system so far away, but next week's convention has created an abnormal situation for the state and the the Bay area. The host committee has stated there is a detailed plan in place to deal with a storm, but officials wouldn't provide much more detail.
What officials have said is that authorities will make sure everyone is safe, first and foremost, and then it will be up to the GOP to make sure Mitt Romney is officially nominated as the party's candidate.
"You've got to get that legal function out of the way," Jones said. "Once you figure how to do that without anybody getting hurt, you make sure people are safe. You get them out of town and to an alternate location."
RNC organizers caught a snippet Monday night and into Tuesday of what could happen if stormy weather impacts the event.
An ordinary Florida thunderstorm blew threw Monday night and damaged parts of a walkway and other rented areas outside the Tampa Bay Forum. Torrential rain on Tuesday added to the weather pattern most Floridians consider typical, but may come as a surprise for visitors to the area.