Tampa is one of the places in the region most vulnerable to storm surge. In a major hurricane, floodwaters could reach about 3 miles inland — Tampa is on a bay, not directly on the Gulf of Mexico — and storm surge could reach as much as 17 feet. The Tampa Bay Times Forum, the convention’s home, is in an area that would be required to evacuate if winds exceeded 96 mph.
But that doesn’t seem likely, say experts, whose studies determined storms usually don’t hit Florida’s Gulf coast at the end of August.
More of a worry is that people will suffer problems during the hot and steamy Tampa summer.
“It is brutally hot down here,” said Steve Huard, spokesman for Hillsborough County Health Department. “We’re trying to do everything we can to keep people from passing out.”
In May, Florida officials held a four-day mock hurricane drill. Officials laid out a worst-case scenario for the emergency planners: what if (fake) Hurricane Gispert — a (fake) Category 3 storm — struck Tampa on the second day of the RNC?
Under that scenario, state leaders canceled the convention. RNC organizers have been asked repeatedly to talk about what will happen if a hurricane threatens the convention. While they acknowledge the possibility, like many security issues, they are close-mouthed about any evacuation plans.
Political conventions have been held before in cities where hurricanes and the heat are summertime threats, though none has been in Florida for 40 years.
The RNC was in Houston in 1992, New Orleans in 1988 and in Miami Beach in 1968 and 1972 — all cities that have been hit by storms, and during a time when hurricane forecasts weren’t as accurate as they are today.
Forecasters say that fortunately, most Gulf storms emerge earlier or later in the hurricane season, which runs from June 1 to Nov. 30.