Key West: Tropical Storm Isaac gained its momentum on Sunday as it bore down on the Florida Keys.
Forecasters warned that Isaac could grow into an “extremely dangerous” hurricane on an expected track toward the northern Gulf Coast.
Isaac`s drew new strength early today during a warm-water crossing of the Florida Straits after causing weekend havoc in Cuba, where it downed trees and power lines, and after leaving four dead earlier in Haiti.
"Currently Isaac is a tropical storm that`s expected to become a hurricane as it reaches Key West ... Then it will move into the Gulf of Mexico and is expected to strengthen" Meteorologist Jessica Schauer with the US National Hurricane Center in Miami told a news agency.
"Our forecast is that as the system moves northward it is forecast to strengthen to a Category 2," she said, adding an eventual landfall is expected on the northern Gulf Coast.
"Definitely the northern Gulf Coast should be preparing for a hurricane right now", Schauer said.
She said Isaac could make a landfall on the northern Gulf Coast late Tuesday night or early Wednesday morning.
A Category 2 hurricane is capable of top sustained winds of 154-177 kilometres per hour. But Schauer cautioned that forecasts that far out in time are subject to greater uncertainty. Nonetheless she said a wide swath of the northern Gulf Coast should be bracing for the threat.
Isaac was expected to be at or near hurricane strength by the time its center reached the Keys later today, the hurricane center said.
A hurricane warning was in effect for the Keys, including the Dry Tortuas and for the west coast of Floirda from Bonita Beach south to Ocean Reef, among some other areas, authorities said.
Meanwhile authorities said a hurricane watch has been issued from the mouth of the Mississippi River not including the New Orleans metro area eastward to Indian Pass.
A steady line of cars moved north along the Overseas Highway, the only road linking the Florida Keys, while residents boarded up windows, laid down sandbags and shuttered businesses ahead of the approaching storm.
Even Duval Street, Key West`s storied main drag, was subdued for a weekend, though not enough to stop music from playing or drinks from being poured.