The Hurricane That Could Ruin the GOP’s Big Bash in Tampa, Explained
In which we answer your questions about Tropical Storm Isaac and the 2012 Republican National Convention.
—By Asawin Suebsaeng
There’s a long list of scenarios that could sour the mood at the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida. “Newt University” could go off the rails. “Violent anarchists” may make an appearance. Fifteen thousand protesters and Occupiers could gum up the GOP’s works. The ban on puppetry might sadden Republican children.
And then there’s the potential hurricane that could be barreling out west toward Tampa, just in time to spoil Mitt Romney’s big kickoff party.
Here’s what you need to know about Tropical Storm Isaac, Mother Nature’s latest display of flagrant liberal bias.
What is Isaac?
It’s a tropical storm that could hit Tampa on Monday, the first day of the GOP nominating convention. Here’s an image from the National Hurricane Center’s Wednesday night forecast showing the fast-moving storm’s probable path (colloquially referred to as the “cone of doom” in Florida):
Where did the name “Isaac” come from?
Isaac has been used for four distinct tropical cyclones in the Atlantic (tropical storms in 1988 and 2012, and hurricanes in 2000 and 2006). Names for hurricanes and storms are generally retired in the event of direct fatalities or extensive damage.
What are the chances the storm touches down in Tampa?
A direct hit by Isaac would be the first one Tampa has experienced in nine decades. Even including the worst-case scenario—torrential downpours, sizable storm surges, and full-scale hurricane-force winds—forecasters are right now putting the odds of evacuation at around 3 percent. (However, some analysts are giving Isaac a 50 percent chance of harming American oil and gas production in the Gulf of Mexico.)
What has this thing meant for the GOP convention thus far?
Organizers are closely watching developing news of the tropical storm, but have not yet announced plans to cancel, postpone, or move events. The Romney campaign is considering moving Ann Romney’s speech from Monday night to another evening, but that’s reportedly due to lack of TV coverage (major networks will air summer reruns during certain prime-time convention hours), not fear of a major hurricane.
Are people besides convention-goers being affected by this storm?
Yes, very much so, and given the widespread danger Isaac poses in the Caribbean, it seems sort of myopic to focus on the RNC: Puerto Rico has opened 428 shelters, and 50 people have hunkered down so far, according to Gov. Luis Fortuno. (Roughly 4,000 people are already without power, and more than 3,000 don’t have access to clean water.) The Virgin Islands are battening down the hatches as well and were hit with 40-mile-an-hour winds and a 10-foot surge of waves on Thursday.
What role does Walmart play in Florida’s disaster response plan?
Potentially a big one. The state’s director of emergency management, Bryan Koon, is a business school grad whose last job was running disaster response for Walmart and Sam’s Club. His “extensive private-sector experience” must have made him attractive to Republican Gov. Rick Scott, a privatization proponent whose personal portfolio has included Walmart stock and who has extolled the corporate chain’s values on multiple occasions. (Walmart also contributed to Scott’s inaugural fund, and gave $15,000 to the Republican Party of Florida.)
While working at Walmart, Koon gave the Federal Emergency Management Agency an interview (its since been wiped from the government agency’s site) that offers some insight into his (and the corporation’s) disaster preparedness philosophy:
We have an extensive database that helps us keep track of what the most popular items are after each type of disaster, which enables us to get the right merchandise to an area more quickly in preparation for or in response to an emergency…
Our ideal situation is one in which private sector, non-governmental organizations and local, state and federal government emergency management organizations…develop inter-operable plans that maximize those strengths and minimizes gaps in coverage…We feel that we are on the right road to get to this eventuality, but it will still be a long trip. It started with Hurricane Katrina, where the folly of planning in a vacuum and hoping for the best was exposed and the benefits of involving the private sector were clearly illustrated.
Koon’s faith in Walmart’s ability to figure out a hurricane isn’t a total aberration; in 2008, multiple media outlets trumpeted “Wal-Mart to the Rescue,” an economist’s study (PDF) that concluded the big-box store performed impeccably in the post-Katrina recovery, thanks to “superior organizational routines that emerge through private ownership and competitive markets.” Few of these media reports pointed out that the author, Stephen Horwitz, is a politically conservative libertarian whose CV includes numerous articles for The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies.
What have leaders in Florida been saying recently?
“Public safety—that’s going to be the No. 1 priority. We can have the convention again,” Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll said on Wednesday.
“We’d be dealing a lot with storm surge issues down there,” Koon told reporters. “We’re also working on a high number of potential evacuations.”
Here’s footage of a press conference Scott held on Thursday morning:
If this becomes a hurricane, where do folks find shelters?
The Hillsborough County government has a list [PDF] of public hurricane shelters for both low and high intensity storms (all the listed locations are at local public schools).
Is Tropical Storm Isaac a liberal conspiracy?
Um, no, but we’ll keep you posted if new information comes through suggesting otherwise. In the meantime, here’s Rush Limbaugh (a man famous for branding The Dark Knight Rises an anti-Romney conspiracy) talking about how President Obama is orchestrating the storm-related panic in order to throw the Republican convention into Day After Tomorrow–type chaos:
I can see Obama sending FEMA in in advance of the hurricane hitting Tampa so that the Republican convention is nothing but a bunch of tents in Tampa, a bunch of RVs and stuff. Make it look like a disaster area before the hurricane even hits there.
Is there something about GOP conventions that attract hurricanes?
Not quite, but this isn’t the first time something like this has happened, either. For instance, just back in 2008, Hurricane Gustav hit Louisiana while Republicans were beginning their national convention in St. Paul, Minnesota. Even though the hurricane ended up missing St. Paul by hundreds of miles, weather concerns caused organizers to cancel or roll back several opening-day events.
And, of course, there are still the ghosts of Hurricane Katrina.
So, is climate change making this worse?
UPDATE 1 (Friday, August 24, 11:50 a.m. PDT): At maximum sustained winds at 60 mph (the threshold for turning into a hurricane is 74), Tropical Storm Isaac has gained strength, but does not seem to be showing signs of rapid intensification. The Washington Post reports:
Much of southern Florida could receive 6-9” in the next few days, with locally higher amounts. Areas in Haiti and Dominican Republic could see 10-20” of rain, with 6-12” in Jamaica and eastern Cuba. Besides flooding, additional threats include coastal storm surge, tornadoes, and of course, winds from the storm itself.
The storm does appear to be veering West, away from the site of the Republican convention in Tampa. However, National Hurricane Center spokesman Dennis Feltgen said Friday that “[n]ot by any stretch of the imagination [is Tampa] out of the woods with this thing.”
Here’s the National Hurricane Center’s updated wind speed probability for the storm, for 8:00 a.m. EDT on Friday:
Asawin Suebsaeng is an interactive fellow at the Washington, DC, bureau of Mother Jones. For more of his stories, click here. You can also follow him on Twitter. Email tips, insights, and anger to asuebsaeng [at] motherjones [dot] com. RSS | Twitter