Tropical Storm Isaac gained strength and alerts were posted for much of the northern Caribbean and Florida as the system moved toward its first landfall, in Haiti. Some energy production in the Gulf of Mexico was shut.
The core of the storm, which may threaten the Republican National Convention in Tampa next week, is expected to cross Haiti overnight on a path toward Cuba and the eastern Gulf, where it’s forecast to become a hurricane, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.
“It’s important not to focus on the exact track due to uncertainties in the forecast and the fact that Isaac has a large area of tropical storm-force winds associated with it,” the center said. Those winds extend 185 miles (298 kilometers) from the core.
As much as 20 inches (51 centimeters) of rain and life-threatening floods and mudslides are possible on the island of Hispaniola, which includes Haiti and the Dominican Republic, the center said. A half-million Haitians are still living in temporary housing since a devastating 2010 earthquake.
The Gulf region is home to 23 percent of U.S. oil production, 7 percent of natural-gas output and 44 percent of refining capacity, according to the U.S. Energy Department.
More than 50,000 people are expected to visit the Tampa Bay area on Florida’s west coast next week as Republicans hold their four-day meeting, said James Davis, a convention spokesman.
Isaac was 100 miles south-southeast of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, as of 5 p.m. East Coast time, the Miami-based hurricane center said in an advisory. The system, moving northwest at 16 miles per hour, had top sustained winds of 65 mph, up from 45 early today.
While Isaac is a disorganized storm, it’s also a big tropical system, said Matt Rogers, president of Commodity Weather Group LLC in Bethesda, Maryland. The size gives it a better chance of surviving a brush with Cuba and the island of Hispaniola with its 10,000-foot mountains, which can tear storms apart, he said.
“I’ve seen storms die after hitting those mountains but I think it will survive.” Rogers said by telephone today.
The hurricane center’s current tracking map shows Isaac nearing the Florida Keys on Aug. 26 and becoming a hurricane on Aug. 27, the opening day of the convention that is expected to nominate Mitt Romney as the Republican presidential candidate. The storm may go ashore the next day on the Florida Panhandle, the center said.
BP Plc began evacuating its Thunder Horse oil platform in the Gulf and suspended crude and natural gas production there in anticipation of the storm. The London-based company also plans to remove non-essential workers from its Na Kika, Horn Mountain and Marlin platforms, Arturo Silva, a BP spokesman, said in an e-mailed statement today.
Royal Dutch Shell Plc., Eni SpA, Apache Corp., Diamond Offshore Drilling Inc. and Ensco Plc said they were planning to evacuate some nonessential workers. Shell said on its website that drilling operations have been suspended on some central and eastern Gulf assets, though production has not been affected.
Transocean said it evacuated 18 non-essential workers from the Discoverer Enterprise rig. The company has 14 rigs in the area where the storm is projected to go, according to Guy Cantwell, a Transocean spokesman.
“Based on the projected track of Isaac, most energy platforms and rigs will be on the less-destructive side of Isaac,” Jim Rouiller, senior energy meteorologist at Planalytics Inc. in Berwyn, Pennsylvania, wrote in an e-mail.
Tropical storm watches, meaning storm conditions are possible within 48 hours, were posted for the Florida Keys and the southern coast of the peninsula from Jupiter Inlet on the Atlantic side to Bonita Beach on the Gulf. Watches and warnings have also been posted for parts of Cuba, the Bahamas and Jamaica.
Tampa, on Florida’s Gulf coast, is the state’s second-biggest metropolitan area, after Miami, with nearly 2.8 million people, Census data show. The Tampa Bay Times Forum, site of the gathering, 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.
Florida Governor Rick Scott said today that the storm’s path further west than initially forecast made Isaac unlikely to disrupt his party’s meeting.
“Everybody is moving forward,” Scott said during a briefing in Tallahassee, the state capital.