KEY WEST, Fla. — Tropical Storm Isaac barely stirred Florida Keys residents from their fabled nonchalance yesterday, 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.
Isaac was expected to cross the Keys by late afternoon, then turn northwest and strike as a Category 2 hurricane somewhere between the New Orleans area to the Florida Panhandle on 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," 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 Dave Harris and Robyn Roth took her dachshund for a walk and checked out boats rocking along the waterfront.