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Republicans Prepared for Long-Shot Hurricane at Tampa Convention

Republicans Prepared for Long-Shot Hurricane in Tampa
The Tampa Bay Times Forum, site of the convention itself, is in a mandatory evacuation zone once storms reach 96 mph, a Category 2 on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, according to the Hillsborough County Hurricane Guide. Photographer: Tim Boyles/Getty Images

Four years after a hurricane in Louisiana forced Republicans to make changes to their convention 1,300 miles away in Minnesota, they’ll nominate their next presidential candidate in Florida, among the most hurricane-prone states in the country.

Few hurricanes have hit Tampa, home to the Republican National Convention that starts Aug. 27, and odds are low it will happen during the four-day event when the party nominates Mitt Romney as its challenger to Democratic President Barack Obama. In one projection, a low-pressure system moving across the Atlantic develops into a tropical storm and makes landfall in Tampa during the convention, said Jeff Masters, founder of the Ann Arbor, Michigan-based Weather Underground. Meteorologists say predictions are unreliable more than a week in advance.

Still, Republicans say they have plans in case of a hurricane. The most violent storm to hit Tampa sent 15 feet of water over land that is now home to the Tampa Bay Convention Center, Masters said. The center will hold 15,000 media members next week.

The Tampa Bay Times Forum, site of the convention itself, is in a mandatory evacuation zone once storms reach 96 mph, a Category 2 on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, according to the Hillsborough County Hurricane Guide.

Louisiana Jinx

In 2008, Republicans cut some convention activities in St. Paul, Minnesota, as Hurricane Gustav made landfall near Cocodrie, Louisiana. Gustav struck three years after Republican President George W. Bush drew blame for his administration’s response to Hurricane Katrina, which ravaged New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.

“We’re going to make sure the 50,000 people coming to Florida are kept safe,” said James Davis, a convention spokesman. “We have contingency plans for a broad range of things that are out of our control.”

Davis refused to disclose details and referred questions to the U.S. Secret Service. George Ogilvie, a Secret Service spokesman, did not return an e-mail seeking comment.

Republicans picked other states ahead of Florida three times citing storm concerns, said Al Austin, a Tampa developer who led efforts to lure the convention. He said his “fingers are crossed.”

“Weather is a concern everywhere,” Austin said. “In California there are earthquakes. You can have tornadoes without any notice in the Midwest. We see forest fires across the West.”

Respect the Model

There is between a 1 percent and 2 percent chance of a tropical storm hitting Tampa next week, Masters said today in an interview. He put the odds of a hurricane striking the city at 0.2 percent.

“This system out there has definitely increased the odds, but it’s way too early to assign definite risks,” Masters said. “The fact that there is a model making landfall over Florida is something we have to respect.”

A low-pressure area, dubbed 94L by the National Hurricane Center, is moving west across the Atlantic and may become a tropical system.

“There is absolutely no way to determine what, if any, impacts 94L might have on the U.S, let alone any specific location such as Tampa,” said Dennis Feltgen, a spokesman for the Miami-based center.

The last hurricane to hit Tampa was Major Hurricane Five in 1946, before the storms were given human names, according to Weather Underground’s website.

The worst hurricane to strike Tampa was the Great Gale of 1848, Masters said. The waves swept away wharves and buildings and toppled trees, Masters wrote on his blog, citing “Florida’s Hurricane History,” a book by Jay Barnes.

The most active period in the Atlantic hurricane season is from Aug. 20 to Oct. 20 with the statistical peak occurring on Sept. 10, according to the Hurricane Center.

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