Elsa, the first hurricane of the 2021 Atlantic storm season, was downgraded to a tropical storm Saturday and was on track to impact Florida by early next week.
“We do feel pretty confident that we are going to be experiencing at least a tropical storm that’s going to impact a lot of communities in Florida,” Gov. Ron DeSantis said at a press conference in Surfside early Saturday.
He added: “You’re looking at a track that is going to go, probably, pass over the western portion of Cuba, end up in the Florida Straits and then start impacting Florida with the eye of the storm looking to be, right now, on the west side of Florida.”
DeSantis declared an emergency for South Florida on Saturday and urged citizens to pay attention to weather advisories in the next few days. The state’s Emergency Operations Center was activated to track Elsa’s progress through the Caribbean.
Elsa was expected to move near the southwestern peninsula of Haiti Saturday evening, and then near Jamaica and portions of eastern Cuba on Sunday, the National Hurricane Center said. The storm was expected to slow down late Saturday and Sunday and turn northwest Sunday night or Monday.
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By Monday, Elsa is expected to head toward the Florida Straits, and, by Tuesday, near or over portions of the west coast of Florida, the National Hurricane Center said.
Sustained winds were about 70 mph, making the tropical storm almost a Category 1 hurricane, according to the National Hurricane Center. Elsa was located about 40 miles south-southwest of Tiburon, Haiti, and 140 miles east of Kingston, Jamaica. The storm slowed Saturday evening, moving west-northwest at 23 mph, according to the NHC. .
A hurricane warning remained in effect Saturday evening for the southern portion of Haiti from Port Au Prince to the southern border with the Dominican Republic. A tropical storm warning was in effect for Jamaica, the coast of Haiti north of Port Au Prince, and parts of Cuba.
A tropical storm watch, which means that tropical storm conditions are expected, was in effect for the Florida Keys from Craig Key westward to the Dry Tortugas.
Tropical storm conditions, storm surge and rainfall impacts are expected to begin Monday in the Florida Keys and the southern Florida Peninsula. The Florida Keys and southern Florida could see up to 6 inches of rainfall in some areas, with the possibility of flooding, the National Hurricane Center said.
Storm conditions are expected to spread northward along the peninsula through Wednesday and reach the coasts of Georgia and the Carolinas Wednesday and Thursday.
“However uncertainty in the forecast remains larger than usual due to Elsa’s potential interaction with the islands of Hispaniola and Cuba,” the National Hurricane Center said. “Interests in Florida and along the southeast U.S. coast should monitor Elsa’s progress and updates to the forecast.”
The impending storm prompted Florida officials on Saturday to abruptly move up plans to demolish the remaining part of a Miami area that condo collapsed last week, as the threat of a secondary collapse of the damaged structure looms, potentially endangering rescue crews.
Robert Molleda, warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Miami, said conditions may worsen as early as Monday afternoon in South Florida, including frequent rain bands and gusty winds. The conditions could continue through Tuesday.
“But remember, any slight shift to the east would mean that we would get worse conditions here,” Molleda said. “We can’t let our guard down.”
Elsa became the earliest E storm on record, beating out Edouard, which formed July 6, 2020. Elsa was the fifth named storm of the season in the Atlantic.
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Contributing: Rick Neale, Florida Today; Bill Cotterell, Tallahassee Democrat. Contact News Now Reporter Christine Fernando at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter at @christinetfern. Follow Breaking News Reporter Grace Hauck at @grace_hauck.