Elsa strengthened into the first hurricane of the 2021 Atlantic storm season on Friday as it battered the eastern Caribbean, where officials closed schools, businesses and airports.
The storm is forecast to impact Florida early next week and officials are urging residents there to make preparations.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday said he is putting together a potential emergency order as Elsa approaches, adding that id South Florida could see tropical-storm-force winds as soon as Sunday night.
Sustained winds were near 85 mph, making the storm a Category 1 hurricane, according to the 5 p.m. advisory from the National Hurricane Center. Hurricane Elsa was located 505 miles southeast of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, and moving west at 30 mph.
Elsa became the earliest E storm on record, beating out Edouard, which formed July 6, 2020. Elsa is the fifth named storm of the season in the Atlantic.
The storm is the first hurricane to hit Barbados in more than 60 years.
“This is the earliest in the season we have ever seen a hurricane hit the region around Barbados and for a hurricane to roll across the Caribbean this early is also unprecedented,” AccuWeather meteorologist Bernie Rayno said.
The first hurricane of the Atlantic season typically forms around Aug. 10, University of Georgia meteorologist Marshall Shepherd wrote in Forbes. We usually do not see the E storm, the fifth of the season, “E” (5th) storm of the season until around Aug. 31, he said.
The Florida Public Radio Emergency Network said Elsa could turn north and weaken after strengthening into a hurricane.
Even though a track into the eastern Gulf is most likely, Elsa could potentially track northward over the Florida Peninsula – or even just to the east of the Sunshine State, according to AccuWeather forecasters.
Previously: Tropical Storm Elsa forms east of the Caribbean
There is a risk of storm surge, wind and rainfall impacts to the Florida Keys and portions of Florida early next week, the Hurricane Center said.
Weather conditions could begin to deteriorate in the Florida Keys and southern Florida as soon as Monday night, AccuWeather said. At this early stage, there is the likelihood of flooding rainfall, damaging winds and power outages over the Florida Peninsula with perhaps the worst conditions along the Gulf Coast side.
“Impacts to the contiguous United States would begin Monday night at the earliest after the system passes through the Caribbean. Residents from the central Gulf Coast, across Florida and to the Carolina coast should monitor the progress of Elsa,” said AccuWeather senior meteorologist Adam Douty.
The forecast uncertainty remains larger than usual because of Elsa’s potential interaction with the Greater Antilles over the weekend.
AccuWeather predicts 15 inches of rain in Cuba and Florida from late in the weekend into early next week. Where the heaviest rain pours down will depend on the exact track of Elsa, but significant rain can occur well away from the center of the storm.
Hurricane warnings were issued for portions of the Dominican Republic and Haiti as well as all of Jamaica as Elsa approached, while a hurricane watch was issued for most of eastern Cuba.
A hurricane warning means that hurricane conditions are expected somewhere within the warning area, the Hurricane Center said, and that “preparations to protect life and
property should be rushed to completion.”
Officials in St. Vincent and the Grenadines closed schools, businesses and an international airport on Friday. Heavy rains and winds lashed Barbados, which imposed similar closures late Thursday.
Hurricane Elsa is expected to produce rainfall totals of 3 to 6 inches with maximum amounts of 10 inches Friday across the Windward and southern Leeward Islands, including Barbados.
This rain may lead to isolated flash flooding and mudslides. Over Puerto Rico, rainfall of 1 to 3 inches with localized amounts of 5 inches is expected late today into Saturday. This rain may lead to isolated flash flooding and minor river flooding, along with the potential for mudslides.
Spaghetti models for Hurricane Elsa
Track Hurricane Elsa
Contributing: Rick Neale, USA TODAY Network; N’dea Yancey-Bragg, USA TODAY; The Associated Press