Tracking the Tropics: Hurricane Hunters find Elsa weaker, Florida remains in cone of uncertainty

Tracking the Tropics

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Elsa, the first hurricane of the year, has parts of Florida and other states in in its cone but still faces plenty of obstacles before it reaches the United States.

Elsa officially became the first hurricane of the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season Friday morning after spending most of Thursday as a fast-moving tropical storm headed toward the Caribbean islands.

The latest track from the National Hurricane Center, released at 11 p.m. ET Friday, still shows parts of the southeastern United States, including Florida, in Hurricane Elsa’s path.

While the NHC says there is a risk of storm surge, wind and rainfall impacts in parts of Florida early next week, there is high uncertainty in Elsa’s position and strength in the long-range forecast, which means potential impacts to Florida could change.

According to the NHC, the forecast uncertainty is higher than usual because Elsa could potentially interact with the Greater Antilles this weekend – just one of the obstacles the storm faces before reaching the U.S.

As of 11 p.m. ET, Elsa is about 395 miles east-southeast of Isla Beata in the Dominican Republic. The system is still moving quickly, at about 29 mph, but is expected to slow down a bit by Sunday night. Elsa is expected to move across the eastern Caribbean Sea later Friday before moving near the southern coast of Hispaniola Saturday. By Sunday, the storm is forecast to be near Jamaica and parts of Cuba.

A hurricane warning is in effect for Jamaica and parts of the coasts of the Dominican Republic and Haiti. A hurricane watch has been issued for the Cuban provinces of Camaguey, Granma, Guantanamo, Holguin, Las Tunas and Santiago de Cuba.

A tropical storm warning is in effect for St. Vincent and the Grenadines, St. Lucia, Martinique, part of the Haitian coast and part of the Dominican Republic coast. A tropical storm watch is in effect for Grenada and its dependencies, part of the Dominican Republic coast, Cayman Branc and Little Cayman.

In its 11 p.m. advisory, the NHC says Hurricane Hunter found Elsa slightly weaker – with maximum sustained winds down to 80 mph. The system is expected to re-strengthen on Saturday. After that, winds could weaken as the system interacts with Cuba, Jamaica and Hispaniola.

According to the NHC, flooding and mudslides are possible as Elsa dumps heavy rain on the islands in the Caribbean. There is also an increasing risk of strong winds, storm surge and heavy rainfall in parts of Cuba this weekend into early next week.

If Elsa continues on this path, impacts in South Florida would begin early Monday morning. Tropical heavy rains, wind, storm surge and isolated tornadoes are all possible. Impacts to the Tampa Bay area would begin late Monday. If the center of the storm moves ashore south of Tampa Bay, impacts would be less than if it were to stay offshore and ride along the eastern Gulf of Mexico.

If it stays east, tropical heavy rain and winds would be our biggest threat. Flooding and toppling trees could be an issue with the excessive amount of rain the area has seen recently. If the storms stay just offshore, storm surge would become an issue and isolated tornadoes would become a threat as well. It is too early to say which is the more likely outcome at this point.

Elsa is the fifth named storm of the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season, after AnaBillClaudette and Danny.

According to Dr. Philip Klotzbach with Colorado State University, Elsa is the earliest fifth named storm on record. The previous record was set last year by Edouard, which formed July 6.

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