MIAMI ‚?? Hurricane warnings have been issued for an area stretching from Louisiana to the Florida Panhandle as Isaac churns toward the Gulf Coast.
The warnings stretched from east of Morgan City, La. ‚?? which includes the New Orleans area ‚?? to Destin, Fla.
Isaac lashed the Florida Keys as a tropical storm on Sunday, bringing rain and strong winds. But residents for the most part took it in stride. However, preparations have begun farther north as forecasters warn Isaac could be a strong Category 2 hurricane by the time it reaches the Gulf Coast.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami says Isaac is expected to hit somewhere between southeastern Louisiana and the Florida Panhandle either late Tuesday or early Wednesday, the seventh anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.
The storm was predicted to pass west of Tampa, the site of the Republican National Convention, but it had already disrupted the schedule there because of the likelihood of heavy rain and strong winds.
Even before reaching hurricane strength, Isaac caused considerable inconvenience, with hundreds of flights canceled at airports in Miami and Fort Lauderdale. There were scattered power outages from Key West to Fort Lauderdale affecting more than 6,000 customers, and flooding occurred in low-lying areas.
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.
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,‚?Ě Mercer said.
‚??With the ones that are brave enough like us,‚?Ě 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 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,‚?Ě 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,‚?Ě he said. ‚??It‚??s a rain storm.‚?Ě
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, and with more uncertainty than usual about the path, a hurricane watch was in effect from east of Morgan City, La., to Indian Pass, Fla.
The storm, which stretched more than 200 miles from its center, was expected to make landfall as a Category 2 hurricane, meaning top sustained winds of 96 to 110 mph.
The Gulf Coast hasn‚??t been hit by a hurricane since 2008, when Dolly, Ike and Gustav all struck the region.
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.