Could Hurricane Isaac threaten the Republican Convention?

by Dave Hennen
CNN Senior Meteorologist

A hurricane hitting Tampa during the Republican Convention?   It’s the talk around the CNN Newsroom, in editorial and planning calls, and certainly the talk around the Weather Center this afternoon.

What are the odds?  Convention planning has been going on for more than a year.  It’s like booking that vacation in the Caribbean during hurricane season.   I tell people all the time who ask me “should I take that August cruise,” go for it!  There is a chance, but even during the season a storm hitting a particular location on a map are minuscule, even at the height of hurricane season.    Dr. Jeff Masters, a respected meteorologist with the website, previously calculated that based on climatology there was a 2-in-one-thousand chance that a hurricane would hit Tampa during the convention.  The odds are higher today, as Tropical Storm Issac churns towards the Caribbean and likely heads in the general direction of Florida.

Some of the fastest computers in the world crunch this data and spit out the likely path and strength of the storm based on a number of conditions. The world of thermo and fluid dynamics and the movement of invisible air is not for the faint of heart. Think of throwing a stick in a stream and trying to figure out where it will be in 3 days.

What we see on the other side of these billions of calculations are the computer model plots, also known as the familiar “spaghetti plots”

Each line represents a different model’s interpretation of what is going to happen.  It’s kind of like giving an MRI or X-ray image to 10 doctors and adding on other things like vital signs, temperature, etc.   You may get 10 different diagnoses of what is ailing you.  That same is true of the computer model plots, and like doctors, some are more reliable than others.  The problem is, some of our best model “doctors” take Isaac into the Gulf of Mexico, which would make a landfall somewhere in the U.S. more likely.

What is interesting about forecasting is that in the short term our forecasts have become  pretty good.   The average error on a 12 hour forecast from the National Hurricane Center is only 36 miles, but the problem is any potential impacts to Tampa, or anywhere in the U.S., are probably at least 5 to 7 days away.  The average error that far out is over well over 250 miles.   So while odds are higher than the Republican Convention planners would like them to be, were not raising the red flag yet for Tampa.  My advice for all heading to, or living in Tampa, as well as anyone along the Gulf or East Coast, is keep a close eye on Isaac.  It could turn into a destructive storm.


CNN International Senior Meteorologist Brandon Miller contributed to this report.

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