Isaac bringing rain, wind, tornado threats to area
TAMPA - Tropical Storm Isaac continued to bring bouts of heavy rain, wind and the threat of tornadoes to the Tampa Bay area as it moved to the northwest, more than 100 miles off Florida's coast. Tampa police reported damage in a two-block area of Palmetto Beach. Tree limbs fell on a house at 2014 Maple Ave. causing minor roof damage. Strong winds pushed a car several feet at 1305 22nd St. and five to six houses in that area have minor damage, police said. After two tornadoes were detected by radar around 1:30 p.m., tornado warnings were issued for southeastern Hillsborough and eastern Manatee counties.The warnings were lifted at 2 p.m. but tornadoes are possible in the area until sunset, said Brooks Garner, Storm Team 8 meteorologist. The outer bands of Isaac continued to bring squally weather with patches of heavy rain and gusts of strong wind to the area throughout the day Monday. Parts of the region could see tropical storm force winds over the next 24 hours, but the storm will not get any closer than it was this morning because it is moving away from the area in a northwest direction across the Gulf, said Storm Team 8 meteorologist Megan Hatton. Flooding in coastal and other low-lying areas is expected as rain from the tropical flow is forecast over the next two days. Flooding prompted the closure of several main roads in South Tampa early Monday including three near downtown. Those roads have since reopened. At least 10 arriving flights and nine departing flights at Tampa International Airport were cancelled early Monday. More than two dozen others were delayed. Most of the cancelled flights were in state, to and from places such as Fort Lauderdale and Key West. Pinellas County authorities closed Clearwater Beach to swimmers and urged beachgoers to stay out of the water at other beaches because of rough surf and the potential for strong rip currents. Six to 8 foot waves were expected along the beaches in Pinellas. Gov. Rick Scott urged Florida's Republican National Convention delegates to stay put and not venture into Tampa nearly 30 miles away because of the weather. Scott updated the delegates on the storm Monday, saying that it did little damage in the Florida Keys, but that everyone in the Tampa Bay area should stay home. He added that he knows people are frustrated that the first day of the convention was postponed by the weather, but that the convention organizers made the right decision. A major concern was buses driving in heavy winds. Later, during a news conference at the Pinellas County Emergency Operations Center, Scott said there are worries Isaac could bring flooding in the Panhandle. The governor says the Panhandle also is at risk of tornadoes. Scott says about 65,000 South Florida residents were without power as of noon Monday. Scott says he is returning to Tallahassee and won't be attending any GOP convention events in Tampa until at least Wednesday. Isaac blew past the Florida Keys and was rolling northwestward over the open Gulf of Mexico. The National Hurricane Center predicted it would grow to a hurricane with winds of between 74 and 95 mph over the warm water and possibly hit sometime Tuesday somewhere along a roughly 300-mile stretch from the bayous southwest of New Orleans to the edge of the Florida Panhandle. That would be one day shy of seven years after Katrina struck catastrophically in 2005, although Katrina was a much stronger Category 5 storm with winds over 157 miles per hour. Forecasters predicted Isaac would intensify into a Category 1 hurricane by Tuesday with top sustained winds of between 74 and 95 mph. The center of its projected path took Isaac directly toward New Orleans Tuesday and Wednesday, but hurricane warnings extended across some 280 miles from Morgan City, La., to the Florida-Alabama state line. It could become the first hurricane to hit the Gulf Coast since 2008. As of 5 p.m. EDT on Monday, Isaac remained a tropical storm but winds had gotten stronger at 70 mph (110 kph). Its center was about 255 miles (415 km) southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi River, and it was moving northwest at 12 mph (19 kph). The size of the warning area and the storm's wide bands of rain and wind prompted emergency declarations in four states, and hurricane-tested residents were boarding up homes, sticking up on food and water or getting ready to evacuate. In the Florida Keys, Monroe County Sheriff's spokeswoman Becky Herrin said there were no injuries and few reports of damage as the storm crossed near Key West on Sunday. Isaac targeted a broad swath of the Gulf Coast on Monday and had New Orleans in its crosshairs, bearing down just ahead of the seventh anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. The potential for a landfall as a Category 1 hurricane as soon as Tuesday prompted evacuations along a wide area of the Gulf Coast and sent people out to stock up on staples. Isaac could pack a watery double punch for the Gulf Coast. If it hits during high tide, Isaac could push floodwaters as deep as 12 feet onto shore in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama and up to six feet in the Florida Panhandle, while dumping up to 18 inches of rain over the region, the National Weather Service warned. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal called a state of emergency, and 53,000 residents of St. Charles Parish near New Orleans were told to leave ahead of the storm. Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant, Florida Gov. Rick Scott and Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley also declared states of emergency. The oncoming storm stopped work on rigs that account for 24 percent of daily oil production in the U.S. potion of the Gulf of Mexico and eight percent of daily natural gas production there, the federal Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement said in its latest update Sunday. The Gulf of Mexico accounts for 23 percent of total U.S. crude oil production, 7 percent of the nation's natural gas and more than 40 percent of refining capacity. Several regional governors altered their plans for this week's GOP convention in Tampa. Bentley has canceled his trip, and Jindal said he's likely to do so unless the threat from the storm subsides. Amtrak cancelled train service in Louisiana for Tuesday and Wednesday. The route than runs from New York to New Orleans would end in Atlanta, while its route from Los Angeles to New Orleans would stop in San Antonio. Amtrak was also suspending part of its rail line between Miami and Orlando, Fla. Grocery and home improvement stores as well as fuel stations in Louisiana reported brisk business as residents sought to prepare for Isaac. Some gas stations were running out of supplies. Even though the storm was moving well west of Tampa, tropical storm-force winds and heavy rains were possible in the area because of Isaac's large size, forecasters said. A small group of protesters braved rainy weather Sunday and vowed to continue despite the weather, which already forced the Republicans to cancel Monday's opening session of the convention. Instead, the GOP will briefly gavel the gathering to order Monday afternoon and then recess until Tuesday. The Gulf Coast hasn't been hit by a hurricane since 2008, when Dolly, Ike and Gustav all struck the region. Before reaching Florida, Isaac was blamed for eight deaths in Haiti and two more in the Dominican Republic, and downed trees and power lines in Cuba.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.