Tropical Storm Isaac strengthens as it nears Gulf Coast

Outer rainbands continue to impact Florida

ORLANDO, Fla. - Outer bands of the growing Tropical Storm Isaac lashed Central Florida on Monday, bringing heavy rain and gusty winds to the region while creating havoc for drivers and causing power outages.

DOWNLOAD: Hurricane app | TRACK: JustWeather | RADAR: Rain across region

At the 11 p.m. update, the National Hurricane Center reported Isaac's winds had increased to 70 miles per hour with gusts up to 85 mph. Isaac continued moving northwest at 10 mph and was about 190 miles southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi River.

As the storm moved closer, residents in Gulf Shores, Ala. and Pensacola, Fla., were boarding up their houses in preparation for Tropical Storm Isaac.

A tornado warning issued for Orange and Seminole counties expired at 11 a.m., as did a tornado watch for Brevard and Osceola counties.  No major damage was immediately reported, according to authorities.

SeaWorld Orlando announced that the theme park will close at 4 p.m. because of inclement weather.  SeaWorld's water park, Aquatica, did not open Monday because of the wet, windy weather.

Wet roads caused problems in Orlando as traffic backed up on Interstate 4 at the infamous Fairbanks curve because of a crash during the morning commute.  There were also numerous other wrecks across Central Florida and flooding forced officials to close Edgewater Drive at Fairbanks Avenue in Orlando.

Meanwhile, nearly 1,000 Progress Energy customers were without power Monday morning in the College Park and Windermere areas.  Power was later restored to most of the customers.

Utility crews consisting of 5,000 workers from 44 companies all over the country were gathered at the Daytona Speedway on Monday in response to possible power outages from Tropical Storm Isaac. Workers were put up in hotels overnight and dispersed to areas they were needed most.

All Central Florida schools, with the exception of Polk County, were open on Monday.

The outer bands of the storm were expected to dump rain on the Orlando area for most of the day, but the region will not feel the full effects from Isaac, which continues to trek to the north and west in the Gulf of Mexico.

Isaac is expected to strengthen, and hurricane warnings were issued for the northern coast of the Gulf of Mexico, from Morgan City, Louisiana, east to Destin, Florida, the National Hurricane Center said.  Landfall for Isaac is expected late Tuesday or Wednesday -- the anniversary of Katrina's landfall -- as a Category 1 hurricane, with winds of at least 74 mph.

The National Weather Service warns if it hits during high tide, Isaac could push floodwaters as deep as 12 feet onto shore in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama and up to 6 feet in the Florida Panhandle. Isaac could dump up to 18 inches of rain over the region.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal called a state of emergency, and 53,000 residents of St. Charles Parish near New Orleans were told to leave ahead of the storm. Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant, Florida Gov. Rick Scott and Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley also have declared states of emergency.

Isaac's strength was holding steady early Monday as it moved at 14 mph through the warm Gulf waters, about 180 miles southwest of Fort Myers, Florida, forecasters said. The storm was packing maximum sustained winds of 65 mph, according to a hurricane center advisory.

It appeared early Monday that the storm's ferocity would mostly bypass Florida's west coast and the Republican National Convention in Tampa, where the schedule was pushed back a day by organizers over concerns about the storm.

After slamming into Haiti, where at least six people died in storm-related incidents Saturday, Isaac lashed Cuba and the Florida Keys.

Watch Local 6 News for more on this story.

Copyright 2012 by All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.