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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Tropical Storm Debby would not scrub RNC, Tampa mayor believes



If Tropical Storm Debby struck the Tampa Bay area not on June 24, but on Aug. 26 -- the day before the Republican National Convention -- would the event still go on?

"I think it would," Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said Monday. "The ingress and egress into downtown is still available. Bayshore (Boulevard) is really the only problem child, but most of the delegates wouldn't be coming in Bayshore. Downtown is open. The businesses are open. Traffic is going to be a challenge, but traffic would be a challenge in August anyway."

In the event of harsh weather, the decision about whether to go on with the convention, postpone it or cancel entirely would be up to the Republican Party and convention organizers, but decisions about evacuating people would be local.

The city activated its emergency operations center for Debby, but not at the scale it would for a full-blown hurricane, Buckhorn said. There were no evacuations, and the mayor had not heard that there was any flooding at either the Tampa Bay Times Forum, the site of the convention, or the Tampa Convention Center, where 15,000 journalists will have their work space.

The convention center is in evacuation Zone A, which is evacuated in Category 1 hurricanes with winds of 74 to 95 mph. The forum and two major convention hotels, the Tampa Marriott Waterside and the Embassy Suites, are in Zone B, which is evacuated in Category 2 hurricanes with winds of 96 to 110 mph.

The odds of a hurricane hitting the Tampa Bay area between Aug. 27-30, when the convention takes place, are less than 1 percent, according to the National Weather Service.

Still, what to do in case of heavy tropical weather has been a major part of the contingency planning for the convention at both the local and state level. Last month, state emergency management officials did a mock hurricane drill on how they would respond if a hurricane hit the bay area during the convention.

"We're ready," Buckhorn said.

Florida's hurricane season runs from June 1 to Nov. 30. In August, most hurricanes tend to move east to west, and the conventional wisdom is that Tampa Bay, on Florida's west coast, is somewhat shielded. 

The last time a major hurricane hit Tampa Bay was 1921. The last time it took a direct hit from any hurricane was 1946, when a Category 1 storm came up through the bay.

But, as Debby and other storms have shown, the bay area doesn't need to sustain a direct hit to feel the effects.

In late August of 1985, Hurricane Elena, a Category 3 storm, stalled off Cedar Key in early September. It was 100 miles northwest of Tampa, but the area still got significant storm-surge flooding that washed over Bayshore Boulevard in Tampa and damaged thousands of homes in Pinellas County.

In October 1968, Hurricane Gladys made landfall near Homosassa, and Clearwater Beach felt wind gusts of up to 90 mph.

In 1950, Hurricane Easy brought 120 mph winds to the area as it skidded along the edge of Florida before making a loop between Tampa and Cedar Key.

Overall, Buckhorn said he thought Tampa came through Debby pretty well, with mostly localized flooding and Bayshore closed.

"Areas, particularly in South Tampa, that historically flood flooded," Buckhorn said. "But I think for the most part, I didn't hear of much structural damage." A tornado touched down in New Tampa and damaged a fence and lanai but did not cause any injuries, he said.



[Last modified: Monday, June 25, 2012 11:03am]


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