Tropical Storm Isaac has been a headache for the people of Florida, the Gulf Coast, and the Republican National Convention (RNC) for much of the last week. Thankfully, for all parties involved, the storm seems to be moving more quickly towards its destination, and is now projected to be weaker when it makes landfall. Assuming Isaac makes landfall and does not cause major destruction – a large but not completely unfounded assumption at this point – it should spare the residents of the Gulf Coast the kind of suffering from Katrina, while also giving Romney his moment in the sun at the RNC Convention.
The bad news is that Isaac is still on a path to make landfall at or near New Orleans, on almost the exact same date that Katrina struck seven years ago. The good news is that Katrina was a Category 3 storm when it landed near New Orleans. Isaac is projected to strengthen to just a Category 1 storm when it makes landfall. Katrina packed sustained winds of 111 to 129 miles per hour when it struck, whereas Isaac is expected to produce sustained winds of 74 to 95 miles per hour. When describing the wind power of a Category 3 storm, the National Hurricane Center bluntly states, “devastating damage will occur.” The NHC describes Category 1 winds as much more tame, saying “very dangerous winds will produce some damage.”
Even though Isaac is at a lesser strength, officials are still urging residents to take precautions. Isaac’s large size of the storm will increase the potential for a storm surge. Isaac also is expected to dump anywhere from 6 to 18 inches of rain, which obviously increases flooding concerns. Much will be determined in the next 24 hours, as Isaac still could cause more damage if it hovers over New Orleans for an extended period of time, rather than moving quickly over the area.
While residents should prepare for the worst, the best can still be hoped for with Isaac. The city is better prepared this time, with $14.5 billion in new flood defense systems, designed to handle storms much stronger than Isaac. When it hit New Orleans, Katrina was in many ways the “perfect storm”, given its size, strength, angle of approach, and the time in which it churned over the city. Isaac appears to be moving more quickly and at a lesser strength. Once again, Isaac should be taken seriously, but there is some reason for cautious optimism at this point.
While RNC officials certainly would say their utmost concern is for the people of the Gulf Coast, they also have to be somewhat relieved for themselves at this point. Isaac’s previous projected path had it landing near New Orleans as a Category 2 storm at approximately 2pm EST on Wednesday. The storm now should make landfall Tuesday night, and be downgraded to a tropical storm or even a tropical depression by the time Romney accepts the nomination and delivers his speech on Thursday night.
Romney has been running for president for much of the last 8 years, and his acceptance speech will be a climax of his efforts thus far, second only to his winning the election, assuming he can accomplish that feat.