The center of Tropical Storm Isaac moved west into the southeastern Gulf of Mexico Sunday night after lashing South Florida and the Keys with wind and rain, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami.
Gov. Rick Scott said he was concerned about heavy rains, winds, the storm surge and the risk of tornadoes around the state. As Isaac began tracking west, Scott said flooding in the Panhandle and high winds in Tampa were major issues for the state.
By late Sunday afternoon it looked like Isaac would eventually make landfall in Mississippi, but the Panhandle was still anticipating up to 18 inches of rain from the storm, Scott said. The area is still saturated from Tropical Storm Debby earlier this year.
“The Panhandle is already saturated, so 18 inches of rain is a significant problem," he said.
After leaving the Keys, Isaac was expected to turn northwest and strike as a Category 2 hurricane somewhere between the New Orleans and the Florida Panhandle on Wednesday, the seventh anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.
Hurricane Center Director Rick Knabb told NBC 6 Sunday afternoon that it would no longer make much of a difference for South Florida how far west Isaac begins to track.
"Not a huge difference, in any event, we're going to be on the southeast of the whole circulation," Knabb said. "What it does impact is the west coast neighbors because if it tracks more east, it would bring tropical storm conditions, if it tracks farther west, the impact on the west coast would be less."
He said Isaac's disorganization and impact on land in the Caribbean had kept it from intensifying.
The governors of Mississippi and Louisiana, Phil Bryant and Bobby Jindal, both declared a state of emergency for their state Sunday.
In Louisiana, Jindal suggested that people begin leaving low-lying parts of the state. New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu declared a state of emergency and asked the city's citizens to begin to prepare.
"I sense there is a high level of anxiety, the timing of this storm coming on – as fate would have it, the anniversary of Katrina – has everybody in a state and sense of alertness and that is a good thing," Landrieu said. "It's important to stay on high alert and stay prepared."
He said Isaac is expected inland late Tuesday night or early Wednesday morning but said the storm's track still remained uncertain.
In South Florida, three people were killed in two separate crashes due to wet roads, the Florida Highway Patrol said. The first crash involved a head-on collision, which killed both drivers, and in the second, the car plunged into a canal and the driver drowned, officials said.
There were no reports of injuries in the Keys, but a tree fell onto the stairs of an unoccupied home, causing some damage, the Monroe County Sheriff's Office said.
The hurricane warning for the Florida Keys was downgraded to a tropical storm warning as of 5 p.m. The warning was also in effect for the Dry Tortugas and Florida Bay.
In addition the tornado watch that was in effect for Miami-Dade, Broward and mainland Monroe counties was discontinued. Strong squalls began passing throughout the Keys and South Florida Sunday morning and were expected to last intermittently into the night.
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.
The Monroe County Sheriff's Office advised the public to stay off the roads and officials said they won't have full field damage reports until Monday. Florida Keys Electric Cooperative and Key Energy reported sporadic outages.
As forecast, the storm strengthened somewhat as it moved out into the Gulf. As of 5 a.m. Monday, Isaac had maximum sustained winds of 65 mph as it moved west-northwest at 14 mph about 180 miles southwest of Ft. Myers and 405 miles southeast of the mouth of the MIssissippi River.
Isaac was expected to strengthen over the next 48 hours and forecasters expect the storm to become a hurricane in the next day or so.
The center of Isaac is expected to move over the eastern Gulf on Monday, and approach the northern Gulf Coast on Tuesday.
Isaac's tropical storm force winds extend outward up to 205 miles from the center, mainly to the northeast of the center.
The hurricane watch for Miami-Dade was dropped Sunday morning. The National Hurricane Center cancelled the hurricane watch for the Florida east coast from Golden Beach southward to Ocean Reef.
As for the Republican National Convention which was scheduled to begin Monday in Tampa, officials announced Saturday that the bulk of the convention would be delayed until Tuesday due to Isaac. RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said the convention will convene briefly Monday and recess until Tuesday afternoon.
Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said Sunday afternoon that the convention will resume Tuesday with a compressed but very active schedule. It will begin in earnest Tuesday at 2 p.m.
Buckhorn said convention tents that are less stable will probably be taken down, then erected again Tuesday morning.
Scott said he cancelled his activities with the convention through Tuesday.
"The convention was a big opportunity for our state to show what a great place this is to live, work and play," Scott said. "What they're going to find out this week is we know how to deal with hurricanes, we're prepared. This is a state that knows how to deal with these things."
On Saturday, Scott declared a state of emergency for the state of Florida and urged South Floridians to monitor the progress of Isaac throughout the weekend.
Some of the strongest wind reports came in early Sunday afternoon and tropical storm force winds were forecast to end early Monday morning.
In addition to wind, Isaac brought the region plenty of rain. Homestead received 6.54 inches of rain, Fort Lauderdale got 5.34 inches, Sawgrass Mills 5.46 inches, Doral 3.46 inches, and Miami International Airport 3.29 inches.
On Sunday, wind gust reports out of Key West were the highest in South Florida at 70 mph, and coastal parts of Miami-Dade and Broward had gusts up to 66 mph on Virginia Key and 64 mph at Port Everglades.
A total of 555 flights in and out of Miami International Airport were cancelled Sunday. Click here for an update on Miami-Dade flights.
Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez issued an evacuation order for residents living in mobile parks and low-lying areas prone to flooding Saturday afternoon, but no general evacuation order was given.
In Broward, officials encouraged residents to brace for tropical storm conditions.
According to Florida Power & Light, as of 4 a.m. 33,320 people in Miami-Dade and 30,050 people in Broward had no power. More than 7,000 crew members were working to restore power to residents, FPL said.
Dangerous surf and rip current conditions will affect the Florida peninsula and Florida Keys during the next couple days.
Isaac has claimed the lives of at least four people, according to the Associated Press.
Monroe County Emergency Management Director Irene Toner said every storm, whether big or small, "poses some sort of a danger.”
“So to think, ‘Oh, it’s only Cat 1,’ or ‘It’s only a tropical storm’ is really not the way to look at it, because Mother Nature is unpredictable – as the storm turned out to be unpredictable," she said.