David Lewis left North Carolina for Florida earlier this week before Tropical Storm Isaac registered on his radar. Now he is standing on a peninsula, 20 feet above sea level, looking at the sky.
“Right now, it’s exactly what you’d expect Florida to be like, hot and muggy, and the skies are overcast,” Lewis reported Thursday from Tampa, where he is attending early Republican National Convention meetings. “But I guess you’re asking about the weather Monday.”
The entire North Carolina delegation traveling to Tampa this weekend for the GOP convention is asking about the weather Monday, the first day of the party confab.
Tropical Storm Isaac is expected to become a hurricane Friday, but some forecast models show it going westward in the Gulf of Mexico, away from a direct landfall in Florida but still a threat, according to the National Weather Service. The storm’s winds extended about 140 miles from the core, which is expected to near Tampa as a Category 1 storm Monday afternoon.
N.C. GOP officials held a conference call with its delegates Wednesday evening to assuage concerns about the storm. So far, party officials report the weather isn’t deterring any delegates from attending. “It’s no big deal right now,” said Wayne King, the party’s vice chairman and delegation chairman. “So far it’s a go ... nothing cancelled, nothing moved.”
North Carolinians know what to expect in hurricanes – more so than delegates from the Midwest, at least.
But if the storm nears Tampa the state’s delegation will surely meet the elements. The convention-goers are staying at a hotel in St. Petersburg, on the tip of a peninsula in the Gulf of Mexico, about 500 feet from the edge of Tampa Bay.
To get to the convention arena 27 miles away in downtown Tampa, the delegates will need to cross the bay and navigate flood-prone streets.
The main bridge is vulnerable in storms and closed for hours in June when Tropical Storm Debby sent high winds and whipped surf in the area, even 150 miles south of where it made landfall.
At least one Triangle-area delegate knows what to expect. Bret McGraw is a native of Winter Haven, Fla.
McGraw, who lives in Durham, said that most people who have spent significant time in the Sunshine State aren’t losing sleep about the storm. “Being a Florida native, 80-mile-per-hour wind doesn’t have me concerned,” he said.
But what if it gets worse? “I’m thinking about packing a floatie so I can float through downtown Tampa,” said McGraw, adding that, in seriousness, he hopes the convention continues as scheduled.
Vinnie DeBenedetto, a delegate from Holly Springs, said he’s a little worried. And he’s not sure how to pack.
He wants to bring an umbrella, but he was told they aren’t allowed in the convention arena. So he plans to dig out a rain jacket from the closet. “We’ll just have to see when I get there,” he said.
Lewis, the state’s Republican national committeeman and a Harnett County state lawmaker, is not as prepared. He didn’t pack a jacket. “If I had to do it again, I would have brought a raincoat,” he said. But “if I have to get a GOP-red rain coat, I’ll buy one.”
Staff writer Austin Baird contributed to this report.