- A hurricane warning 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 warning was issued for over 4 million people along Florida’s west coast Tuesday as Tropical Storm Elsa spun past Key West and into the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, where the storm was forecast to regain hurricane strength before making landfall on the Sunshine State.
The hurricane warning was in effect from Egmont Key to the Steinhatchee River. A hurricane warning means that hurricane conditions are expected in the area, in this case within the next 24 hours, according to the National Hurricane Center.
“Preparations to protect life and property should be rushed to completion,” the hurricane center said.
The storm was centered about 180 miles south of Tampa, as of 2 p.m. EDT Tuesday, driving sustained winds of 70 mph, the National Hurricane Center said in an advisory.
The storm moved north-northwest at 9 mph, much slower than its record-setting pace of more than 30 mph last week.
The Key West International Airport measured a wind gust of 59 mph.
Tropical-storm-force winds extended outward up to 70 miles from its center. Strong wind gusts and heavy rains swept across parts of southern Florida on Tuesday morning. “Life-threatening” storm surges, flooding and isolated tornadoes were possible, the advisory warned.
AccuWeather forecast Elsa to make landfall north of Tampa on Wednesday morning. Tampa International Airport planned to shut down Tuesday at 5 p.m.
Up to 8 inches of rain is possible across the Keys and into southwest and western portions of the Florida Peninsula, and isolated pockets could see 15 inches, AccuWeather said.
Gov. Ron DeSantis issued a state of emergency for more than two dozen of the state’s 67 counties. At a news briefing Tuesday morning, DeSantis reminded residents not to focus on Elsa’s “cone of concern” because the storm’s “impacts are expected well outside that area.”
“And if you look at how the storm is, it’s incredibly lopsided to the east,” DeSantis said. “So most of the rainfall is going to be east of the center of the storm.”
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 entirely spared. Heavy rains and strong winds were reported, and lightning late Monday forced crews to pause the search for victims of the condo collapse June 24 in Surfside, officials said.
MacDill Air Force Base near Tampa evacuated some planes to McConnell Air Force Base in Wichita, Kansas, before the storm.
Elsa slid west of 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. A tropical storm watch was issued for the Georgia coast and portions of the South Carolina coast.
About 180,000 Cubans fled their homes before 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.
Streets flooded as Elsa sweeps through Florida Keys
Streets in Key West, Florida, flooded on July 6, as Tropical Storm Elsa brought heavy rain and strong winds to the area.
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 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.
AccuWeather senior on-air meteorologist Geoff Cornish pointed out that the season is far from over – “only in the second inning, season-wise, if this were a baseball game.”
Track Elsa’s path
Elsa spaghetti model
Bacon reported from Arlington, Virginia; Rice from Silver Spring, Maryland. Contributing: Diane Pantaleo, The (Lafayette, La.) Daily Advertiser; The Associated Press