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Threat of tropical storms gets national attention as RNC nears

It's late August in Florida. Sea surface temperatures are high. Weather experts just upped their hurricane predictions for the year.

And more than 50,000 people are en route to Tampa for the GOP's 2012 convention.

Did we mention it's hurricane season?

With an eye on a storm developing in the mid Atlantic Ocean just days before the convention, national news organizations, political pundits and forecasters Monday were holding forth on the prospect of a hurricane hitting Tampa.

Don't panic. It's way too soon to tell.

The system that has everyone concerned isn't even a tropical storm. It's a tropical wave nearly 1,000 miles away from the Lesser Antilles. It's expected to become a tropical depression within the next 48 hours and ultimately could grow into Isaac, the season's ninth named storm.

If conditions are right, the system could reach North America by early next week. When the Republican National Convention is in town.

Despite swirling speculations, experts said there's no clear or present threat to the United States, let alone Tampa Bay.

"There is a tremendous amount of uncertainty in the track and intensity forecasts of this storm," National Hurricane Center forecaster Michael Brennan said.

Where it will go?

"Long term, it could head straight west toward Mexico, it could curve into the gulf and threaten the U.S. there, or it could recurve east off the Atlantic coast of Florida," Brennan said. "There's such a wide range of possibilities."

Historically, 16 percent of storms positioned where the tropical wave was Monday go on to hit the United States, according to Jeff Masters, chief meteorologist for Weather Underground. Of those, he noted, most made their way to the East Coast, specifically North Carolina.

Convention organizers have said the Secret Service would evaluate and respond to any threats of inclement weather on a case-by-case basis.

Hillsborough County Emergency Management spokesman Willie Puz acknowledged the 50,000 additional people expected to pack the area during the convention would put "a new wrinkle in things," but wouldn't change the county's approach: Be prepared for anything.

"We plan and are prepared continuously, so just one storm being out there is not something that we have to worry about in particular," Puz said. "The RNC is ancillary to anything we do."

The storm everyone is talking about is one of four late Monday in the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea or Gulf of Mexico.

"When we're in the peak of the season, there can be tropical cyclones developing anywhere in the Atlantic basin, and they're usually stronger storms," Brennan said. "These things can develop anywhere, including close to where people live, without a lot of notice."

Hurricane experts, who had predicted nine to 12 storms when the season began in June, recently upped their predictions to expect anywhere from 12 to 17 named storms to form before the season ends in November. Of those, as many as eight could turn into hurricanes, with two or three major storms packing winds of at least 111 mph, officials said.

Marissa Lang can be reached at mlang@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8804.

Weather Underground Inc. | Updates on this storm

Threat of tropical storms gets national attention as RNC nears 08/20/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 21, 2012 8:38am]
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