The Lesser Antilles are under tropical storm watches as a disturbance with a high probability of strengthening into the fifth named storm of the season, Elsa, heads their way.
It’s far too soon to tell if the disturbance poses a threat to Florida, but authorities are already working to split resources away from the search-and-rescue effort at the Surfside condo collapse to prepare for a future storm.
The National Hurricane Center began issuing advisories for potential tropical cyclone five Wednesday at 5 p.m. At that point, the disturbance was about 1,200 miles east of the Windward Islands and headed west at 21 mph.
The system’s winds were around 35 mph, just shy of the point where it could be classified as a tropical depression. Forecasters said the thunderstorms around the storm were organizing but it still lacked a clearly defined center, which is key to gaining tropical storm status.
Tropical Storm watches were issued for Barbados, St. Vincent, the Grenadines, St. Lucia, Martinique and Guadeloupe, which indicates the tropical storm level conditions could come in the next 48 hours.
“Interests elsewhere in the Windward Islands, Leeward Islands, the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and Haiti should monitor the progress of this system. Warnings and additional watches will likely be required tonight and on Thursday,” forecasters wrote.
The latest track shows the disturbance strengthening into a tropical storm sometime Wednesday night and strengthening to 60 mph winds by Saturday. In the discussion, forecasters noted that although the disturbance was experiencing favorable wind conditions for strengthening, it’s moving at a pace that usually makes it tough for systems to develop.
Forecasters said the disturbance could bring 3 to 6 inches of rain, with some regions seeing up to 8 inches on Friday. This could cause flooding and mudslides.
On Twitter, Jeff Huffman, chief meteorologist of UF Weather, begged Floridians to “PLEASE don’t freak out” if a cone is pointed toward the state. He noted that forecasters are far less sure of the long-term predictions (like those from Saturday and beyond) than they are for short-term predictions in the next few days.
If Tropical Storm Elsa forms before July 6 it will become the earliest ‘E’ named storm on record, beating out the runner-up storms in 2020 and 2005. According to NOAA data, the average fifth named storm in a season falls on August 31.
On Wednesday evening, the Antilles were already feeling the impact of another tropical disturbance — a weak one forecasters downgraded to a zero percent chance of strengthening in the next five days.