MIAMI – As expected, Elsa strengthened back into a hurricane ahead of its expected landfall over the northern Florida Gulf coast.
As of 11 p.m. Tuesday, Elsa’s maximum sustained winds were measured at 75 mph. Its core was about 65 miles southwest of Tampa as it moved to the north at 14 mph.
Elsa’s bands brought strong winds and heavy rainfall to the Florida Keys earlier Tuesday.
While the South Florida region has largely avoided the worst effects from the system, Miami-Dade, Broward and Monroe are among several counties that are now under a tornado watch until 11 p.m. as outer bands reach the eastern part of the state.
TORNADO WATCH - In effect for all of South Florida until 11 pm. Good time to have the Local10 Weather App to track radar and weather alerts. See more at https://t.co/vwgjZ2edlG pic.twitter.com/X5LlshUiUv— WPLG Local 10 News (@WPLGLocal10) July 6, 2021
Elsa, the earliest fifth-named storm on record in the Atlantic, gained strength and took whipped past the Florida Keys on Tuesday morning, prompting a hurricane watch for portions of the west coast of the state.
While Elsa’s westward shift spared the lower Florida Keys a direct hit, the islands were still getting plenty of rain and wind Tuesday as Elsa the storm continued its way north.
The storm system has complicated the search effort at the collapsed condo in Surfside, and it was forecasted to reach hurricane strength, which it now has, before it makes landfall somewhere between Tampa Bay and the Big Bend.
“On the forecast track, Elsa will move near or over portions of the west coast of Florida later tonight and early Wednesday morning,” the National Hurricane Center said in its 11 p.m. forecast discussion. “Elsa is forecast to make landfall along the north Florida Gulf coast by late Wednesday morning and then move across the southeastern United States through Thursday.”
The storm surge could reach 5 feet over normally dry land in the Tampa Bay area if Elsa passes at high tide, forecasters said.
Tampa International Airport closed Tuesday at 5 p.m.
#Elsa has intensified and now has max winds of 70 mph. Elsa is the strongest Atlantic named storm in the eastern Gulf of Mexico (24-30°N, 88-82°W) this early in the calendar year since Alberto in 2006. #hurricane pic.twitter.com/p5RS3vBOne— Philip Klotzbach (@philklotzbach) July 6, 2021
Local 10 News meteorologist Julie Durda said the system is very lopsided but there is a lot of moisture on the eastern edge of the storm.
Effects from the outer bands in South Florida could bring flooding, storm surge and tornadic activity.
Gov. Ron DeSantis expanded an existing state of emergency to cover several counties that span an area of Florida where Elsa is expected to make a swift passage on Wednesday.
“So, the total counties under the state of emergency are now at 33,” he said Tuesday evening from Tallahassee. “The state EOC here has moved to a level one, so that’s 24-hour operations. We did that partially because [of] the impacts of the most rural counties. ... We want to be here to supplement and support.”
He cautioned Floridians not to focus too heavily on the cone because much of the effects will be felt outside of it.
“If you look at how lopsided this storm is anything east of the eye will have some impact,” DeSantis said.
The governor added that storm surge will be a concern for counties along the Gulf coast and flash flooding will also be an issue for parts of the west coast of Florida, which have seen higher than usual rainfall the last couple of weeks.
DeSantis said no widespread evacuations are expected in the state with this storm.
Below is a list of watches and warnings that are currently in effect from the National Hurricane Center:
Storm Surge Warning:
West coast of Florida from Bonita Beach to the Aucilla River, including Tampa Bay
Egmont Key to the Steinhatchee River, Florida
Tropical Storm Warning:
Mouth of St. Marys River, Georgia to Little River Inlet, South Carolina
West coast of Florida from Chokoloskee to south of Egmont Key
West coast of Florida north of Steinhatchee River to Ochlockonee River
Storm Surge Watch:
West of the Aucilla River to the Ochlockonee River, Florida
Tropical Storm Watch:
North of Little River Inlet, South Carolina to Duck, North Carolina
North of Altamaha Sound, Georgia, to South Santee River, South Carolina