Conditions in southern Florida have started to deteriorate with Tropical Storm Elsa taking aim at the Florida Keys early Tuesday, prompting a hurricane watch for portions of the state’s west coast, according to the National Hurricane Center.
Elsa’s forecast track would largely spare South Florida, including Surfside, where a condominium building partially collapsed June 24. The rest of the building was demolished late Sunday due to concern about Elsa’s possible impact on the site.
In addition to damaging winds and heavy rains, the Miami-based hurricane center said the peninsula could get life-threatening storm surges, flooding and isolated tornadoes.
Gov. Ron DeSantis expanded an existing state of emergency Monday to cover a dozen counties spanning a part of Florida that Elsa is expected to pass through quickly on Wednesday, and President Joe Biden approved an Emergency Declaration for the state ahead of the storm.
Elsa’s maximum sustained winds strengthened to 60 mph early Tuesday. A slow strengthening is forecast through Tuesday night and Elsa could be near hurricane strength before it makes landfall over Florida. It’s expected to weaken after it moves inland.
Its core was about 50 miles southwest of Key West and 270 miles south of Tampa. It was continuing to move north-northwest at 12 mph.
A hurricane watch was issued for the west-central and Big Bend coast of Florida from Egmont Key to the Steinhatchee River.
Three to 5 inches of rain with localized maximum totals of up to 8 inches of rain are expected through Wednesday across the Keys and into southwest and western Florida. A few tornadoes are possible across south Florida Tuesday morning and across the Florida Peninsula later in the day, the center said.
Tropical storm warnings were posted for the Florida Keys from Craig Key westward to the Dry Tortugas and for the west coast of Florida from Flamingo northward to the Ochlockonee River.
A Tropical Storm Watch has been issued for the Georgia coast and portions of the South Carolina coast from the Mouth of St. Marys River to South Santee River, South Carolina.
Tropical storm conditions should continue over portions of central and western Cuba during the next several hours. Tropical storm conditions are beginning in the warning area in the Florida Keys and are expected along the Florida west coast later Tuesday.
Elsa made landfall in Cuba on Monday afternoon near Cienega de Zapata, a natural park with few inhabitants. It headed northwestward across the island, passing Havana just to the east. Five to ten inches of rain with up to 15 inches are expected Tuesday across portions of Cuba. That could produce significant flash flooding and mudslides.
Elsa spent Sunday and much of Monday sweeping parallel to Cuba’s southern coast before heading onto land, sparing most of the island from significant effects. As a precaution, Cuban officials had evacuated 180,000 people against the possibility of heavy flooding from a storm that already battered several Caribbean islands, killing at least three people.
Elsa was the first hurricane of the Atlantic season until Saturday morning and caused widespread damage on several eastern Caribbean islands Friday. Elsa is the earliest fifth-named storm on record, said Brian McNoldy, a hurricane researcher at the University of Miami.
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