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Tampa Bay 'dodged a bullet' as Isaac passes us by

We stocked up on water. We watched weather reports. We canceled school. We braced ourselves.

But as Tampa Bay residents — and thousands of visitors here for the Republican National Convention — found out on Monday, Tropical Storm Isaac's wrath wasn't a wrath at all.

It was pretty tame.

No widespread damage or flooding was reported. Only a few hundred people across the region reported power outages. Some streets closed — but only temporarily. Wind gusts hovered in the 40 mph-range, although they did reach 51 mph overnight Monday near Egmont Key.

Rainfall was also considerably less than the torrential downpours that had been feared. By 6 p.m., Bay News 9 meteorologist Brian McClure said, St. Petersburg had received just a half inch. Tampa got a bit more — 2 inches of rain.

"We dodged a bullet with this one," said Dave Baker, a spokesman for Pinellas County. "It wasn't as bad as it could have been. We really got a light dose."

Students will head back to school today. Shelters will be closed. Courts and other government offices will reopen.

But the threat isn't completely over.

Authorities began warning people Monday morning to stay away from beaches. Even if the weather clears — as it is supposed to today — the Gulf of Mexico is still expected to be churned up, possibly through Wednesday. A high surf and coastal flood advisory is in place until 4 p.m. today for the region.

"The main things we're concerned about is those 6- to 8-foot waves, and the possibility of riptides," Baker said.

Swells from Isaac, which continued its northwest march across the Gulf of Mexico late Monday, are likely to cause rip currents — strong flows of water away from a beach — for the next day or two, said National Weather Service meteorologist Daniel Noah. Tropical moisture left in its wake also could cause more showers and possibly thunderstorms today, he said.

In Clearwater, officials planted double red flags on the beach, which means swimmers are not allowed in the water.

Earlier this summer, an Alabama woman died after being sucked into rip currents that formed off Pass-a-Grille after Tropical Storm Debby.

Officials were especially concerned about delegates and other RNC visitors who might not know how to handle rough surf.

"They may be unfamiliar with the dangers," Baker said. "The riptides you can't see a lot of times until it's too late. We just want people to stay out of the water for the next couple of days until things calm down."

The National Weather Service also received a report of a small waterspout Monday afternoon in Tampa. It touched down briefly over East Bay, near U.S. 41 and the Port of Tampa, without appearing to cause any damage, said Jessica Talley, a National Weather Service meteorologist.

In Hernando and Pasco counties, officials continue to monitor river levels, wary of flooding and grounds saturated from earlier storms.

In Brooksville, Steve Ferriero spent the weekend building a 2-foot-high wood and plastic wall around the building that houses his sign shop, as well as Pine Brook Pharmacy. He caulked the seams and reinforced the corners with sandbags. He installed pumps.

"I couldn't sit back and watch it come in like the last time," he said, noting the project cost about $2,500 — far less than the $50,000 in damage he incurred this summer because of flooding during Debby.

On the Pinellas beaches Monday afternoon, Isaac sneered a bit, but did little else.

The storm churned up the surf and muddied the water — in a way that happens here every week during an average afternoon rainstorm.

Sunshine occasionally poked through fast-moving gray clouds. Spurts of heavy rain dampened streets, but never came close to flooding them. Bars and restaurants were open and, by midday, packed.

Isaac's all-night easterly winds minimized the surge, leaving the sand dunes untouched. That wind did, however, keep most people off the beach.

Gail Phoebus, a deputy mayor from a small town in Sussex County, N.J., was among the few delegates who ventured out for a morning walk.

"It's beautiful here," she said of St. Pete Beach. "I'm going to get my husband to bring me back on vacation."

In South Florida, residents mostly took the storm in stride as its center passed just south of Key West on Sunday.

The storm knocked out power temporarily for more than 70,000 customers throughout South Florida, and 555 flights were canceled at Miami International Airport.

In the Keys, isolated patches of flooding were reported and some roads were littered with downed palm fronds and small branches. But officials said damage appeared to be minimal, and many Keys residents held true to their any-excuse-for-a-party reputation.

This story includes information from the Associated Press and Times staff writers John Woodrow Cox, Barbara Behrendt, Stephanie Bolling, Stephanie Wang, Danny Valentine, Marissa Lang and Bill Levesque. Kameel Stanley can be reached at kstanley@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8643 or on Twitter @cornandpotatoes.

Tampa Bay 'dodged a bullet' as Isaac passes us by 08/27/12 [Last modified: Monday, August 27, 2012 10:46pm]
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