Tropical Storm Elsa will make landfall Wednesday in western Florida, slamming the state with torrential rain, powerful winds, flooding and possibly isolated tornadoes, forecasters say.
Elsa — which had maximum sustained winds of 65 miles per hour as of 5 a.m. Wednesday — has weakened from a Category 1 hurricane into a tropical storm, but experts say the impact will be very similar either way.
“Whether Elsa hits as a low-end Category 1 hurricane or as a strong tropical storm, there may be little difference with impacts,” AccuWeather meteorologist Jake Sojda said.
As of 5 a.m., the storm was located about 50 miles south-southwest of Cedar Key, Florida, and was moving north at 14 mph, according to AccuWeather.
Gov. Ron DeSantis has placed 33 counties under a state of emergency.
“Satellite and radar images revealed that Elsa is a very lopsided tropical storm on Tuesday with the majority of heavy rain, thunderstorms and gusty winds on the system’s eastern side, which happens to be over Florida,” AccuWeather chief on-air meteorologist Bernie Rayno said.
Much of the Florida peninsula is likely to experience bouts of torrential rain, strong wind gusts and flooding in low-lying areas, AccuWeather reported.
Power outages and fallen trees may lead to minor property damage.
As the storm moves along, southwesterly winds will push Gulf of Mexico water into Tampa Bay to near Cedar Key — creating a storm surge of 3 to 6 feet, with locally higher levels possible, according to AccuWeather.
Forecasters also warn of possible isolated tornadoes and waterspouts.
Tornadoes may come with little warning — as they are likely to spin up and dissipate within minutes on the storm’s eastern side. They could be wrapped in rain and difficult to spot, according to AccuWeather forecasters.
Parts of Florida were under a tornado watch through 8 a.m. Wednesday.
Commercial operations at Tampa International Airport were suspended at 5 p.m. Tuesday, though they will tentatively resume by 10 a.m. Wednesday, officials said.
The center of the storm passed just west of Tampa, home to about 3.2 million people, Tuesday night — but heavy rain, thunderstorms, flooding, gusty winds and power outages remained a risk.
“Tampa’s going to get hit pretty hard,” Rayno said.
The downpours and strong winds could stretch to the state’s southeast coast, potentially disrupting operations at the site of last week’s deadly condo collapse in Surfside, according to AccuWeather.
Tropical storm watches and warnings have also been issued in Georgia, the Carolinas and Virginia ahead of landfall in the Sunshine State, according to CNN.
Elsa — which became the Atlantic’s first hurricane of the 2021 season — is expected to emerge off the mid-Atlantic coast and its impacts will continue along the Northeast coastline Thursday into Friday, according to Accuweather.
So far, the storm has led to downed trees, flooding rain, power outages — and one death.