With Tropical Storm Isaac gaining strength and continuing to march toward Florida, a hurricane watch was posted late Friday for the Florida Keys, and a tropical storm warning is in effect for mainland South Florida.
On the east coast, the tropical storm warning includes the stretch from the Jupiter Inlet south. On the west coast, it runs from Bonita Beach south. It means tropical storm conditions are possible within 48 hours.
At 11 p.m. Friday, Isaac was in the Caribbean about 65 miles south-southwest of Port-Au-Prince, Haiti, moving northwest at 14 mph with sustained winds of 70 mph.
Earlier Friday, Isaac was forecast to draw close enough to produce up to 3 to 6 inches of rain and gusty winds starting at midday Sunday and continuing into the day on Monday. If the storm wobbles closer, the area would see even worse weather, meteorologist Robert Molleda of the National Weather Service in Miamisaid.
"That’s why we need people to continue to watch this closely," he said. "Don’t let your guard down yet."
Molleda said the winds and rain should start picking up during the day on Sunday and steadily get stronger into the evening hours.
"We could end up seeing prolonged periods of heavy rain, and that could lead to flooding," he said, adding that a flood watch may be posted over the weekend.
Molleda said the nasty weather should start to ease up sometime Monday morning.
"Once it's north of us, conditions will taper off gradually," he said.
Chuck Lanza, Broward County's emergency management director, cautioned residents and visitors to be prepared for possible flooding in low-lying areas, potential power outages and rip currents.
Isaac also is expected to produce squally conditons in Orlando on Monday and Tuesday.
"The worst day for Orlando will be Monday," said meteorologist Peggy Glitto of the National Weather Service in Melbourne. "We’ll have a threat of strong wind gusts of 40 to 50 mph and the potential for a few tornadoes."
More immediately, Isaac is forecast to move across eastern Cuba on Saturday. It is projected to move into the Gulf of Mexico on Monday.
Whether the system will create enough nasty weather to disrupt the Republican National Convention in Tampa remains in question. For now, it still is scheduled to start Monday and run through Thursday.
Late Friday, Vice President Joe Biden said he would postpone his scheduled visit to Tampa to ensure that law enforcement and emergency resources could be focused on the storm. Biden still plans to continue with stops in Orlando and St. Augustine on Tuesday.
“We continue to be optimistic that we won’t have any issues,” Gov Rick Scott said.
Scott said he is planning to leave for the convention in Tampa on Sunday but noted that could change if the storm worsens. The governor is slated to speak Monday night.
“I’ll just make a decision as we go along,” he said.'
Scott said his staff, emergency management officials and RNC organizers have continued to meet by phone for twice daily briefings on the state of the storm.
State emergency management officials have also put together brochures for RNC delegates about tropical storms and the impact it could have on beaches or their stay.
Indeed, if the storm continues on its current path, Tampa could largely be spared. But Southwest Florida and the Panhandle are bracing for rain and winds.
The Panhandle still is recovering from Tropical Storm Debby's heavy rains in late June. That system flooded much of Wakulla and Franklin Counties, and the region remains extremely wet from other rain events.
“Any additional rain could exacerbate the situation they’re feeling there,” said State Emergency Management Director Bryan Koon.
The hurricane center also is monitoring a tropical wave in the eastern Atlantic near the Cape Verde Islands, giving it a medium chance of developing into a depression or storm over the next two days. That system was moving northwest at 15 mph.
The next named storm will be Kirk.
A short-lived Tropical Storm Joyce has degenerated into a "remnant low" in the Central Atlantic.
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