FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Hurricane Elsa, which had strengthened Friday afternoon as it continued speeding through the Caribbean, saw its forecast track shift slightly westward in the 5 p.m. EDT advisory, placing most of coastal South Florida — including Surfside, where rescue efforts after the condo collapse are ongoing — outside the National Hurricane Center’s projected potential path.
However, the majority of Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties remained in the potential path for early next week, according to the National Hurricane Center.
Elsa, the season’s first hurricane, increased its wind speed to 85 miles per hour earlier Friday afternoon, an increase of 10 mph from Friday morning but not enough to exceed Category 1 strength (74-95 mph).
Elsa is cruising west through the Caribbean at the seldom-seen speed of 30 mph.
The storm became the season’s first hurricane Friday morning, and nearly the entire state of Florida was 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, 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.
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 Fourth 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 is located 505 miles southeast of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, according to the National Hurricane Center. Hurricane-force winds extend 25 miles from Elsa’s center and Tropical Storm-force-winds extend 140 miles.
All of South Florida remains in the cone of Hurricane Elsa and the system could hit the region early next week.
It’s too early to determine whether Hurricane Elsa could hit South Florida as a hurricane.
“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.
The current forecast path takes Elsa over portions of the Windward Islands (where the western Caribbean Sea meets the north Atlantic Ocean) and southern Leeward Islands (where the Caribbean Sea meets the western Atlantic Ocean) today. Its forecast to move across the eastern Caribbean sea Friday evening and Friday night, and near the southern coast of the Dominican Republic and Haiti on Saturday.
By Sunday, Elsa is forecast to be near Jamaica and portions of eastern Cuba.
However, the hurricane center has been quick to add the forecast is uncertain beyond three days.
Elsa is expected to produce between 3 to 6 inches of rain, and perhaps as much as 10 inches, in parts of the Windward and Leeward Islands, including Barbados.
A hurricane warning is in effect for the south coast of the Dominican Republic from Punta Palenque to the border with Haiti, and 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 St. Vincent and Grenadines, St. Lucia, Martinique, Dominica, the coast of Haiti north of Port-au-Prince, the south coast of the Dominican Republic east of Punta Palenque to Cabo Engano, and Jamaica.
A hurricane watch is in effect for Jamaica.
A Tropical Storm watch is in effect for Grenada, Saba and Sint Eustatius, the north coast of the Dominican Republic from Cabo Engano to Bahia de Manzanillo, and Cayman Brac and Little Cayman.
One forecast model has Elsa turning north after reaching Haiti and the Dominican Republic, but other models have Elsa continuing into the southeastern Gulf of Mexico.
“The discrepancy in the models makes confidence in this track lower than usual,” according to the hurricane center.
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 re-curve 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.