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Tropical Storm Elsa maintains its strength and speed, South Florida remains outside the cone

Chris Perkins, Keven Lerner, Steve Svekis and David Fleshler, South Florida Sun Sentinel on

Published in Weather News

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Tropical Storm Elsa continued blazing a path in Florida’s direction Saturday afternoon, with winds that could reach South Florida as early as Sunday night, according to the National Hurricane Center.

Elsa weakened to tropical storm status Saturday morning, its wind speed falling to 70 mph as it started to rough up Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

The storm might briefly regain hurricane strength, which requires windspeeds of at least 74 mph, according to the 2 p.m. update from the National Hurricane Center.

But even if that happens, Elsa isn’t forecast to remain a hurricane very long as wind shear prompted by its rapid forward motion and possible interaction with land would likely reduce its intensity.

The storm’s forecast cone remains just west of South Florida. But some models still show it striking the region, and the National Hurricane Center said confidence in the forecast track is higher but there’s still “significant uncertainty” in the intensity track. And the cone shows only the possible locations of the storm’s center, which means hurricane-force or tropical-force winds could extend well outside the cone.

Elsa is expected to be near or over portions of Florida’s west coast Tuesday, according to the hurricane center.

The east side of the storm, and specifically the northeast quadrant of the storm, produce the most rain and the biggest threat from tornadoes, experts say.

If Elsa’s center passes through the center of the state, South Florida could be lined up for lots of inclement weather.

If Elsa’s center passes far west of Florida, or even east of South Florida, the inclement weather figures to be reduced.

Water in the Gulf of Mexico and Florida Straits is strong enough to keep Elsa as a Tropical Storm as it approaches Florida early next week, according to forecasters.

The hurricane center said there’s an increasing chance of rain, wind, and storm surge in the Florida Keys and peninsula through Tuesday, but the forecast remains uncertain due to Elsa’s possible interaction with land in the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Cuba.

The hurricane, moving at a blazing forward speed of 29 mph, was located 100 miles west-southwest of Isla Beata, Dominican Republic, according to the National Hurricane Center, and 255 miles east of Kingston, Jamaica. Tropical force-winds extend 125 miles from the center.

Elsa is expected to slow down a bit later Saturday and and turn northwest Sunday night or Monday.

The hurricane center said tropical storm watches might be necessary across parts of South Florida later today. It said Elsa could present wind, storm surge, rain and tornado threats. It said biggest threat appears to be late Sunday night through Tuesday, and rain squalls and windy conditions could being as early as Sunday night.

However, it still says the most likely arrival of tropical storm-force-winds in South Florida is Monday morning or afternoon.

Land, especially mountains in Cuba, remain the biggest factor in reducing Elsa’s intensity before its possible Florida arrival.

Elsa’s rapid pace means it will have difficulty regaining strength, according to experts. The structure of a hurricane is most effective when its straight up and down, like a chimney, according to National Weather Service meteorologist Joel Cline.

“If one section is moving faster than the other, e.g. in this case the lower level is moving forward at 25 to 30 mph and the mid-level of the same tropical system is moving about 15 mph, then the difference in those winds would shear the chimney and the smoke comes out the bottom of the chimney and the fire goes out,” Cline said in an email.

“In the tropical system, the system would fall apart with the low-level center and likely no convection or storms moving away from the mid-level center, and thus nearly all the convection would die out and the system dies.”

The current forecast path takes Elsa over the southern coast of the Dominican Republic and Haiti tonight, and near Jamaica and portions of eastern Cuba on Sunday.

By Monday, the hurricane center said, Elsa should be moving across central and western Cuba and toward the Florida Straits.

The storm became the season’s first hurricane Friday morning, and nearly the entire state of Florida is in its forecast cone of uncertainty.

Any local impacts from Elsa would come after the July Fourth holiday, according to Robert Garcia, a meteorologist with the National Hurricane Center. That means the scheduled fireworks shows in Broward and Palm Beach counties should be unaffected by Elsa unless the forecast changes.

Even though much is still uncertain, Broward Mayor Steve Geller on Friday urged residents to stock up on hurricane supplies now while they are readily available rather than waiting later in the hurricane season.

“Have enough water and nonperishable food at home as well as batteries ... If you can, get prepared now for the hurricane season,” Geller said.

He also encouraged residents to make sure they have all they need to board up and put on hurricane shutters ahead of a major storm.

“We’ve all been there before and we know people have a tendency to wait,” he said. “...Please prepare now for the entire hurricane season.”

Local officials from the airport, water control and electric companies are also keeping a close eye on Elsa.

Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport is monitoring the situation, according to spokesperson Arlene Satchell.

“Right now, we’re not under any hurricane watches or warnings,” she said. “We’ll continue to monitor the path of the storm and we’ll make adjustments it if becomes a threat to the region.”

Satchell suggested travelers check with their airlines for possible delays or cancellations.

 

Randy Smith, spokesman for the South Florida Water Management District, said they’re lowering canals in Broward and Miami-Dade counties and sending the water to the ocean through gates and pump stations.

“We’ll put them in a low range and that’s because we anticipate significant rainfall from Elsa,” he said.

Smith also said people should check neighborhood drainage areas and make sure nothing is blocking the path. Otherwise, the water could back up and flood.

“Don’t wait until it starts raining,” he said.

Smith said if a big clearance job is required people should call their local public works department.

Florida Power & Light is also monitoring Elsa. It said customers can go to FPL.com/storm for information on things such as outages.

“We’re ready,” spokesman Peter Robbins said. “We have trained for storms year-round. We’ve got our people and equipment on standby and we’ll keep watching and see how it develops.”

Robbins said at this point it’s too late to trim trees because trash pickup could be disrupted by Elsa’s approach.

Hurricane Elsa could also disrupt travel plans on the busy July 4 weekend. Florida expects to have 2.6 million drivers on the roads, according to AAA The Auto Club Group. Last year, in the midst of the COVID-19 threat, Florida has just fewer than 2 million drivers on the road for July, according to AAA.

Elsa was being watched carefully by officials in Surfside, as well.

”Any bad significant wind could potentially bring down the remaining part of that building,” T.J. Lyon, chair of Florida’s Statewide Emergency Response Plan, told weather.com. ”Any bad weather is going to have a significant impact on the incident scene.”

Elsa’s track and intensity are still being watched carefully.

“This forecast is most complicated by land interaction,” meteorologist Jonathan Belles of The Weather Channel said in an email. “We don’t know exactly how this system will interact with Hispaniola, Jamaica or Cuba this weekend. The more interaction Elsa has with those countries, the weaker the storm will be as it gets closer to Florida.

“A secondary factor that we’ll be watching with this system is its forward speed. It is being shoved westward at a much faster clip than most systems can sustain themselves at, but this forward speed should slow down somewhat. Wind shear is a concern with this storm too, but to a lesser degree than the other two factors.”

Elsa is a record-breaker, becoming the earliest-forming fifth storm in recorded history. The previous record was held by Tropical Storm Eduardo, which formed on July 5, 2020.

Elsa’s hurricane development is 39 days ahead of when meteorologists typically observe the first hurricane formation of the season; which on average usually happens on Aug. 10, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s database.

Forecasters mentioned Elsa’s possible development into a hurricane Thursday, but there was no hint it would develop so quickly.

“I would say at this point, with a Tropical Storm being forecast, it isn’t unreasonable for South Floridians to be ready for the potential of a Category 1 hurricane knocking on our door early next week,” Garcia said.

“It is something that can’t be ruled out, and folks should be aware that’s something we may have to prepare for here during the holiday weekend.”

Whichever way the system goes, Elsa seems sure to bring rain to already-saturated South Florida — and it could bring lots.

A hurricane warning is in effect for the southern portion of Haiti from Port Au Prince to the southern border with the Dominican Republic.

A Tropical Storm warning is in effect for the coast of Haiti north of Port Au Prince, the south coast of the Dominican Republic from Punta Palenque to the border with Haiti, and the Cuban provinces of Camaguey, Granma, Guantanamo, Holguin, Las Tunas, Santiago de Cuba, and Jamaica.

A hurricane watch in effect forthe Cuban provinces of Camaguey, Granma, Guantanamo, Holguin, Las Tunas, and Santiago de Cuba.

A Tropical Storm watch is in effect for the south coast of the Dominican Republic east of Punta Palenque to Cabo Engano, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman, and the Cuban provinces of Ciego de Avila, Sancti Spiritus, Villa Clara, Cienfuegos, and Matanzas.

The determining factor of where Elsa goes, and when it turns north from its current westward direction, is the Bermuda High, a high-pressure system that is the storm’s steering mechanism. It’s essentially what deflects storms from Florida or allows them near.

“This influence will last into the weekend before we start to reach the western edge of the Bermuda High and begin to turn northward,” Belles said.

“If the Bermuda High is strong, storms often go westward into Central America,” he said, “but if that Bermuda High is weaker, storms can recurve northward over the Greater Antilles and out into the Atlantic. It appears that Elsa will split this envelope of climatology down the middle.

Last year’s first hurricane, Hanna, developed into a hurricane and made landfall in Texas on July 25.

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©2021 South Florida Sun Sentinel. Visit at sun-sentinel.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
 

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