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Tropical Storm Elsa could reach hurricane strength before blasting Florida

  • A hurricane watch was issued for parts of Florida’s West Coast.
  • “Life-threatening” storm surges, flooding and isolated tornadoes are possible.
  • Isolated areas of Florida could see up to 15 inches of rain.

VERO BEACH, Fla. – A hurricane watch was issued for parts of Florida’s West Coast on Tuesday as Tropical Storm Elsa rolled off Cuba and into the warm waters of the Straits of Florida, where the storm could regain hurricane strength before making landfall on the Sunshine State.

The storm was centered about 55 miles west of Key West at 8 a.m. EDT Tuesday, driving sustained winds of 60 mph, the National Weather Service said in an advisory. The Key West International Airport measured a wind gust of 48 mph.

The storm was moving north-northwest at 12 mph, much slower than its record-setting pace of more than 30 mph last week.

Tropical-storm-force winds extend outward up to 70 miles from its center. Strong wind gusts and heavy rains were sweeping across parts of southern Florida on Tuesday morning. “Life-threatening” storm surges, flooding and isolated tornadoes also were possible, the advisory warned.

AccuWeather forecast Elsa to make landfall north of Tampa on Wednesday morning. Up to 8 inches of rain is possible across the Keys and into southwest and western portions of the Florida Peninsula, with isolated pockets possibly seeing 15 inches, AccuWeather said.

Gov. Ron DeSantis issued a state of emergency for more than two dozen of the state’s 67 counties. President Joe Biden approved an Emergency Declaration for the state, meaning the federal government will fund 75% of evacuation and shelter support costs.

Miami-Dade County, which DeSantis removed from the emergency list, was not being entirely spared. Some heavy rains and strong winds were reported, and lightning late Monday forced crews to pause the search for victims of the June 24 condo collapse in Surfside, officials said.

MacDill Air Force Base near Tampa evacuated some planes to McConnell Air Force Base, located in Wichita, Kansas, ahead of the storm.

Elsa was approaching the Florida Keys on Tuesday morning and was forecast to move near or over portions of the west coast of Florida later Tuesday and Wednesday.

“Slow strengthening is forecast through tonight, and Elsa could be near hurricane strength before it makes landfall in Florida,” the advisory said. “Weakening is expected after it moves inland.”

The hurricane watch was issued for the west-central and Big Bend coast of Florida from Egmont Key to the Steinhatchee River. A tropical storm watch has been issued for the Georgia coast and portions of the South Carolina coast.

About 180,000 Cubans fled their homes in advance of the storm; no deaths were immediately reported there. Across portions of Cuba through Tuesday night, rainfall of 5 to 10 inches with isolated maximum amounts of 15 inches was expected, resulting in “significant flash flooding and mudslides,” the advisory said. 

Elsa was blamed for at least three deaths on its sweep through the Caribbean last week. 

Elsa is the earliest fifth-named storm on record and it also broke the record as the tropic’s fastest-moving hurricane, clocking in at 31 mph Saturday morning, said Brian McNoldy, a hurricane researcher at the University of Miami.

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