Tropical Storm Isaac could have charged at Tampa, but it didn’t. Instead, Isaac moved further west into the Gulf of Mexico. So although the risk posed by Isaac was enough to cancel the first day of the RNC, the reporters, delegates, and politicians gathered in Tampa will only need to deal with Isaac's gusty outer rain-bands. It could be tempting for politicos to rejoice in a near miss, but Isaac now poses a second, indirect threat to the RNC: a landfall near New Orleans on the seventh year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.
Now in the Gulf of Mexico, Isaac will have more time to intensify before a final landfall with the continental United States than it would have if hit the Florida peninsula. To date, Isaac’s strength has been limited by land, dry air, and a disorganized inner core (to take a baseball analogy: you can only throw so hard without decent throwing mechanics). But with the next two days over the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico and favorable upper level winds, Isaac will have its best opportunity yet to get its act together—and that’s exactly what computer models and the National Hurricane Center predict. The official forecast projects that Isaac will make landfall as a Category 2 Hurricane with winds of 100 mph.
Although it is too early to determine precisely where Isaac will make landfall or exactly how strong it might be, RNC planners will be forced to deal with a hurricane landfall for the second straight convention. Holding a convention during a hurricane landfall isn’t optimal in the abstract and Isaac adds a dose of symbolism to boot. The most recent forecast path takes the storm right toward New Orleans on the seventh anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, and it’s hard to imagine the RNC getting anything near an optimal amount of media attention when pitted against a combination of disaster porn and a great hook.
Isaac is hardly assured to hit New Orleans—in fact, the forecast is unusually uncertain due to a split in the computer models. But a landfall somewhere along the Gulf Coast is all but assured and it would put the GOP in a tough spot. Four years ago, Gustav forced the GOP to delay the start of the GOP convention, indicating a recognition that it's not wise to convene while others are enduring a hurricane. But Isaac’s near miss already forced the GOP to cancel Monday. Would the RNC delay an additional day and shorten the convention further? Can they extend the convention later? Or would the RNC plow ahead and commence in spite of Isaac? There wasn't much reporting on these questions this weekend, but RNC planners will start to grapple with them today.