By Yaël Ossowski | Florida Watchdog
TAMPA — If this past week in the Tampa Bay area is any indication, attendees of the 2012 Republican National Convention should prepare themselves for a week of proposed reforms, party platforms — and tropical storms.
“There is no way to forecast the presence of a tropical cyclone in the Gulf, or any other part of the Atlantic basin, this far in advance,” said Dennis Feltgen, communications officer for the National Hurricane Center in Miami.
He said it’s impossible to predict if the ‘Big One’ will be headed Tampa’s way during the RNC in late August, but convention-goers should remain cautious in the face of storm season.
“It all depends upon the weather systems present at the time, as a tropical cyclone is steered by the weather pattern that surrounds it,” he told Florida Watchdog.
Battered by rain and high winds brought on by Tropical Storm Debby earlier this week, residents of Florida’s Gulf Coast felt the brunt of flooded roads, closed bridges and power failures, and only three weeks into the Atlantic hurricane season, which began on June 1 and lasts through Nov. 30.
Winds reached 60 miles per hour and dumped more than 15 inches of rain throughout the region, ranking it “mild” compared to historical storms, according to the National Weather Service.
If a mild storm flooded the streets across from the nominating floor of the 2012 RNC at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, what are the chances of an even bigger storm interrupting the GOP’s convention taking place Aug. 27-30?
City officials pondered that very idea in June 2011, vowing to avoid the fate of New Orleans after the 2005 category 5 Hurricane Katrina, crippling the ill-prepared city and its infrastructure.
“I want to make sure we practice and practice and practice until we’re ready,” Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn told the Tampa Bay Times last year. “This is not New Orleans, and I am not Ray Nagin,” he said, referring to the New Orleans mayor seen by many as incapable of handling such a disaster.
In 2010, the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council drew up a disaster plan with a hypothetical category 5 storm named Hurricane Phoenix: Tampa’s very own ‘Big One.’
The scenario created by the council affects nearly 2 million people and causes more than $250 billion worth of damage.
Though the planning council precisely charted the worst-case scenario, it is not certain if the RNC could withstand an impending storm the size of Tropical Storm Debby or a mythical Hurricane Phoenix.
“The Committee on Arrangements is working very closely with our partners at the federal, state and local levels to address and plan for every potential contingency – including those related to weather – and to ensure the health and safety of convention delegates, guests and visitors,” RNC spokesman James David told Florida Watchdog in an email.
David said the RNC isn’t discussing postponing or even moving the convention.
If planners begin to rethink the event’s location in the Tampa Bay region, it wouldn’t be the first convention city to face the uncertainty of the effects of weather.
In the summer of 2008, Hurricane Gustav similarly threatened the shores of Florida and Louisiana, causing many Republicans to fret the cancellation of their nominating convention scheduled in St. Paul, Minn.
“It wouldn’t be appropriate to have a festive occasion while a near tragedy or a terrible challenge is presented in the form of a natural disaster,” Arizona Senator and 2008 GOP presidential nominee John McCain told Fox News’ Chris Wallace in an interview.
The convention went on as planned.
Many officials have begun to openly float the idea of permanently relocating all future presidential party conventions — but for budgetary reasons rather than any concern for weather.
“We’re borrowing money from the Chinese to fund a ‘Hallelujah Party’ in both Tampa and Charlotte this year, each one of them getting $18.4 million. It’s time that kind of nonsense stops,” U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Oka, said on the Senate floor on June 21, introducing a bill to strip both parties of their public allowances for nominating conventions.
Each party convention receives $50 million for security and $18.4 million for planning purposes from taxpayers, according to the Congressional Budget Office. That was enough to convince 95 senators to support Sen. Coburn‘s bill in last week’s vote.
Apart from the $68.4-million gift from taxpayers, Republican leaders say they hope to raise over $55 million for their 2012 convention.
Barring the threat of any major storm, that would make the RNC a $123 million crowning of GOP nominee Mitt Romney, who is slated to face incumbent President Barack Obama, a Democrat, in the general election in November.