Comparing Isaac with Ike of 2008
The current situation with Isaac is similar in some ways to that of Hurricane Ike of 2008. Ike spent considerable time over Cuba, weakening from a Category 4 to a Category 1 storm. The storm couldn't put its energy into building a strong inner core, but it was able to build up its outer rainbands that were over very warm waters. This resulted in a major expansion of its wind field, with tropical storm-force winds extending out 275 miles from the center at one point. Ike was able to intensify into a Category 2 storm on its path towards Texas, and had an unusually low pressure for a Cat 2 storm with 100 mph winds--944 mb. That's a central pressure more typical of a Category 3 storm, but Ike could only manage Category 2 winds, since it had such a large chunk of the atmosphere to keep spinning. With Isaac's TS winds already extending out to 205 miles, maybe we'll see another Ike-type situation as it intensifies--the storm will have an unusually low pressure in order to keep a huge wind field spinning, but never make it above Category 2, since it will take so long to spin up such a large wind field.
Storm surge forecast for Isaac
Isaac is a very large storm, with tropical storm-force winds that extend out 205 miles from the center. For comparison, Hurricane Katrina at landfall had tropical storm-force winds that extended out 230 miles from its center. Isaac's large size will enable it to set a large area of the ocean into motion, which will generate a large storm surge once the storm approaches land on the Gulf Coast. The latest 3:30 am EDT Integrated Kinetic Energy analysis from NOAA's Hurricane Research Division put the destructive potential of Isaac's winds near 0 on a scale of 1 to 6, but the destructive potential of Isaacs's storm surge was 2.1 on a scale of 1 to 6. A 2008 paper by Irish et al., The influence of storm size on hurricane surge, found that large storms like Isaac are capable to delivering a 30% larger storm surge to the coast than a smaller storm with the same maximum wind speeds. The angle with which the storm hit the coast is important, too--a storm moving due north or slightly east of north will deliver a storm surge about 10% greater than a storm moving NNW or NW. Consult our Storm Surge pages for detailed information on what the risk is for the coast. I expect that Isaac's storm surge will be about 30% higher than the typical surge one would expect based on the maximum wind speeds. Jeff Masters, Weather Underground 8/26/2012