Tropical Storm Isaac turns northwest after soaking Florida

A man walks on the beach in Key West, Fla., Sunday, Aug. 26, 2012, as heavy winds hit the northern coast from Tropical Storm Isaac. Isaac is expected to continue streaming across Marion County Monday as it continues toward the northern Gulf of Mexico. National Weather Service officials in Jacksonville on Sunday said Marion County began getting rain bands from Isaac around 2 p.m. and that the rain would continue through Tuesday. AP Photo/Alan Diaz

Updated 2:05 a.m. ET Aug. 27, 2012

(CBS/AP) KEY WEST, Fla. - Tropical Storm Isaac barely stirred Florida Keys residents from their fabled nonchalance Sunday, while the Gulf Coast braced for the possibility that the sprawling storm will strengthen into a dangerous hurricane by the time it makes landfall there.

At 2 a.m. ET on Monday, the center of the storm was located about 110 miles west of Key West and 455 miles southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi River, according to the National Hurricane Center. It was moving west-northwest at about 15 mph. The storm had maximum sustained winds of about 65 mph. Isaac is expected to strengthen as it moves out over the open, warm water of the Gulf of Mexico.

It was on course to strike land on the seventh anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, a powerful storm that crippled New Orleans and the Gulf Coast and became a symbol of government ineptitude. Isaac passed the Keys late Sunday before turning northwest, where forecasters have predicted it could strike as a Category 2 hurricane somewhere between New Orleans and the Florida Panhandle on Wednesday.

The National Hurricane Center issued a hurricane warning for a large swath of the northern Gulf Coast from east of Morgan City, La. - which includes the New Orleans area - to Destin, Fla. A Category 2 hurricane has sustained winds of between 96 and 110 mph.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal called a state of emergency and officials in St. Charles Parish near New Orleans told its 53,000 residents to leave ahead of the storm. Jindal also said he may skip a speaking engagement later this week at the Republican National Convention in Tampa unless the threat to his state subsides. Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley has also canceled his trip to the convention because of Isaac.

tropical storm isaac
The projected path of Tropical Storm Isaac as of 11 p.m. Sunday evening
WFOR Miami
Elected leaders' vigilance toward tropical storms has heightened in the seven years since Katrina struck. Criticism was leveled at officials reaching all the way to the White House over what was seen as the federal government's slow and bungled response to the storm that killed 1,800.

Tropical Storm Isaac lashes Florida Keys
7 years after Katrina, NOLA braces for Isaac
Isaac could become Cat 2 hurricane: Forecaster
WFOR Miami's interactive storm tracker

An emergency declaration was also issued in Mississippi by Gov. Phil Bryant amid concerns of storm surge threatening low-lying areas. Oil companies began evacuating workers from offshore oil rigs and cutting production in advance of Isaac.

The storm was on a course to pass west of Tampa, but it had already disrupted the Republicans' schedule there because of the likelihood of heavy rain and strong winds that extended more than 200 miles from its center.

Even before reaching hurricane strength, Isaac caused considerable inconvenience, with more than 550 flights canceled at Miami International Airport and about 150 from Fort Lauderdale's airport. There were scattered power outages from Key West to Fort Lauderdale affecting more than 16,000 customers, and flooding occurred in low-lying areas.

Gov. Rick Scott said at a news conference Sunday evening that only minor damage was reported from Isaac.

Wind gusts of 60 mph were reported as far north as Pompano Beach, north of Fort Lauderdale. But while officials urged residents in southeast Florida to stay home, that recommendation was ignored by surfers and joggers on Miami Beach and shoppers at area malls.

At left, watch a CBS Evening News report on Tropical Storm Isaac passing through Florida.

In Key West, Emalyn Mercer rode her bike while decked out with a snorkel and mask, inflatable arm bands and a paddle, just for a laugh. She rode with Kelly Friend, who wore a wet suit, dive cap and lobster gloves.

"We're just going for a drink," Mercer said.

"With the ones that are brave enough like us," Friend added.

Along famed Duval Street, many stores, bars and restaurants closed, the cigar rollers and palm readers packed up, and just a handful of drinking holes remained open.

But people posed for pictures at the Southernmost Point, while at a marina Dave Harris and Robyn Roth took her dachshund for a walk and checked out boats rocking along the waterfront.

"Just a summer day in Key West," Harris said.

That kind of ho-hum attitude extended farther up the coast. Edwin Reeder swung by a gas station in Miami Shores - not for fuel, but drinks and snacks.

"This isn't a storm," he said. "It's a rain storm."

With a laugh, Reeder said he has not stocked up aside from buying dog and cat food.

The forecast wasn't funny, however. Isaac was expected to draw significant strength from the warm, open waters of the Gulf of Mexico, but there remained much uncertainty about its path.

The Gulf Coast hasn't been hit by a hurricane since 2008, when Dolly, Ike and Gustav all struck the region. Florida, meanwhile, has been hurricane-free since it was struck four times each in 2004 and 2005.

Hurricane center forecasters are uncertain of the storm's path because two of their best computer models now track the storm on opposite sides of a broad cone. One model has Isaac going well west and the other well east. For the moment, the predicted track goes up the middle.

Comments