The Times-Fourm, site of the RNC. That's Tampa Bay in the distance.
Well its June 1 - the official start of hurricane season here in sunny Florida and storm preparations this year are centered on the Republican National Convention scheduled for August 27 -30, smack in the height of hurricane season.
Two of the worst storms to hit Florida hit during late August - Katrina crossed Florida east to west before heading on to devastate New Orleans and Hurricane Andrew came ashore south of Miami twenty years ago.
It's a nightmare scenario: a hurricane swirling off Florida as delegates start to arrive here for the Republican National Convention.
How strong would it have to be to change the convention schedule or force a cancellation? What if it's just a tropical storm? How about a major storm that makes landfall in another part of the state, redirecting personnel and resources? And who makes the final call on what to do?
The odds of a hurricane hitting the Tampa Bay area between Aug. 27-30, when the convention takes place, are mercifully slim — less than 1 percent, according to the National Weather Service. But officials are preparing for the worst, just in case.
A hurricane has not directly come up Tampa Bay since 1921 yet if one did the entire RNC is in the primary evacuation zone. Downtown Tampa would be completely flooded requiring evacuation not only of local residents but 50,000 plus visitors who don’t know where to go and may not have access to cars and transportation.
What to do?
"Decisions are going to have to be made during the event," said Daniel Noah of the National Weather Service office in Ruskin.
Bob Buckhorn, Tampa’s Mayor knows he'll be sitting squarely on the hot seat.
While the decision about whether to continue the convention, postpone it or cancel entirely would be up to the Republican Party and convention organizers, the decision about evacuating people would be a local one.
Buckhorn, a Democrat, says he'll be ready to "err on the side of safety."
And if the storm never hits?
"If I get criticized for evacuating people for a storm that veers off at the last minute, I'm fine with that," he said.
Think of all the people who will have to evacuate: tens of thousands of visitors who have only seen hurricanes on television. Thousands of people who have never put plywood on their windows, never left their belongings and headed for higher ground, never wondered what they'd do with pets or whether they had enough bottled water.
All those people, crammed into downtown Tampa, which happens to be in evacuation zones A and B — the first places people will have to flee if a big enough storm blows through.
The likelihood of that happening again, during that week in August, Noah said, is slim.
And then there was Hurricane Charley.
The storm, which was headed for Pinellas County before turning abruptly and hammering Punta Gorda, arrived the second week in August 2004. Charley's 145 mph winds killed 15 people and caused about $15 billion in damage.
That storm's last-minute turn is something officials must keep in mind, too. Even storms not pointed at the bay area pose a threat.
Well maybe we will have a "regular" August for the RNC.
Augusts in Florida are more likely to be hot and steamy, with thunderstorms just about every day.
Even the most routine weather patterns will pose problems for the thousands of people packed into downtown, said Bay News 9 meteorologist Josh Linker.
Oppressive heat during the day will give way to afternoon downpours, complete with lightning strikes and the potential for flooding throughout South Tampa.
And there's this extra challenge: Umbrellas are banned inside the Convention Center. You can bring your legally registered gun however to the event zone and your concealed weapons permit.