MIAMI — Tropical Storm Elsa’s projected track jogged a bit west early Monday — easing the threat for South Florida, including most of the Lower Florida Keys, which now appear likely to see a windy, wet sideswipe rather than a direct hit from a slightly stronger but small system.
Elsa’s path will take it over most of central Cuba on Monday — where nearly 200,000 people have been evacuated — before it re-emerges in the Florida straits early Tuesday morning. On Monday morning, tropical storm watches on Florida’s west coast were upgraded to a warning and extended farther north. It’s potential Florida landfall site also shifted farther north overnight.
As of the 11 a.m. ET advisory, Elsa looks like it will make landfall in Florida in Horseshoe Beach, north of the Suwannee River, Wednesday morning. It was about 20 miles east-southeast of Cayo Largo, Cuba, and about 140 miles south-southeast of Havana.
The storm got slightly stronger overnight but continued to shrink, with 65 mph maximum sustained winds that now extended only 70 miles from the center. Its pace held steady at 14 mph.
The latest projections continued to inch Elsa’s track west and set up most of Florida’s west coast for a scrape from the small storm. In the 5 a.m. advisory, forecasters said Elsa’s strongest winds were mostly within 60 miles east of the center.
With that 11 a.m. update, the hurricane warning for portions of Cuba was downgraded to a tropical storm warning, a sign that the hurricane center no longer expects Elsa to strengthen back to a Category 1 storm while crossing Cuba.
“Some slight weakening is likely while Elsa crosses west-central Cuba today. Restrengthening over the Gulf of Mexico is likely to be limited,” forecasters wrote in the 11 a.m. advisory.
South Florida is firmly out of the cone of uncertainty, but forecasters said gusty winds and heavy rain are still possible through Wednesday as the storm grinds up the west coast. Miami will experience its gustiest winds (around 25 mph) midday Tuesday, according to the National Weather Service.
The Lower Keys could start to feel Elsa’s winds as early as Monday night, but more likely early Tuesday morning. The National Weather Service shows Key West could see maximum sustained winds in the low-40s with gusts as high as 57 mph around 7 a.m. Tuesday.
The Lower and Middle Keys on Monday remained under a tropical storm warning and the rest of the island chain was under a tropical storm watch.