Tropical Storm Elsa is on its forecast track. The center of the storm is just west of Key West this morning heading north for an encounter with Florida’s west coast.
Elsa is totally lopsided. All of the bad weather is on the right side – the east side – of the storm, which for now is over the Lower and Middle Keys. Later today and tomorrow, however, that right-side feeder band will rake the west coast of Florida.
Elsa is forecast to strengthen to near hurricane strength as it moves north parallel to the the west coast, so a Hurricane Watch has been issued for the area from Tampa Bay north. Gulf water is forecast to be pushed 3 to 5 feet above high-tide levels from Tampa Bay to Florida’s Big Bend, which will flood low-lying areas if the forecast holds up.
Elsa’s center of circulation is near the Dry Tortugas – the exact center is about 55 miles west of Key West this morning. The strongest winds in the storm are close to the center on the east side but are offshore of Key West.
The second band with embedded cells with winds of 40 to 50 mph is over the Lower Keys and fringing the Middle Keys. The farther up the Keys, the farther from the center of circulation, and the lower the winds, in general. So the Upper Keys should only get some gusty winds in squalls that occasionally move through.
There is a third band of gusty downpours, offshore of the Upper Keys, but it is quite fragmented and not of much consequence so far. The band might affect Miami-Dade and Broward counties later today, but most of the bad weather will be on the west coast of the state.
Elsa is forecast to move steadily north today, so that by this afternoon, the center will be offshore of Fort Myers, plus or minus. The big band of bad weather, which currently extends south to Cuba, will continue to rotate over the Lower to Middle part of the Keys, however. So it’s going to an all-day thing before this ends in the Keys late today. Tomorrow should be a good day.
The National Weather Service is forecasting up to 8 inches of rain in the Lower Keys in some spots, but more than that could fall in areas where a persistent band sets up, so one tropical rain cell follows the other.
In the Lower and Middle Keys, try to park your car on high ground just in case your neighborhood gets super-heavy rain. Also, because the winds will be quite gusty, and a few small tornadoes could be embedded in the rain bands, try to avoid parking under trees.
As Elsa’s center moves north up the west coast of the state, the winds on the bottom side of the circulation will push Gulf water against the shoreline – which is storm surge. So on top of very heavy rain, which could cause some flooding, low-lying coastal sections may have salt-water flooding as well.
This issue will be exacerbated from Tampa Bay up to the Big Bend because Elsa is forecast to strengthen to near or at hurricane strength while it veers toward the coast, probably north of Tampa.
That change in its direction of motion, plus the stronger wind, puts the surge of Gulf water directly into the coastal bays and rivers, which pushes the water higher. Thus the higher storm surge forecast.
Everybody on the west coast of Florida north to the Big Bend should stay well informed. It’s not out of the question that Elsa could suddenly become stronger, which would mean heavier rain and more storm surge. The west coast is extremely vulnerable to storm-surge flooding, so stay aware of the latest updates.
Elsa should be over North Florida by tomorrow afternoon and heading up toward the Mid-Atlantic as mostly a rainmaker, although some gusty winds will accompany the storm.
Nothing else of consequence is showing up in the tropics in the long-range computer forecast models. Hopefully Mother Nature will take a break.