Tropical Storm Elsa May Hit Florida With ‘Life-Threatening’ Storm Surge and Tornadoes

Tropical Storm Elsa May Hit Florida With ‘Life-Threatening’ Storm Surge and Tornadoes
A satellite image of Tropical Storm Elsa. (Image: NOAA, AP)

As Tropical Storm Elsa sweeps northward, swaths of Florida are bracing for high rains, fast winds, potentially life-threatening storm surges, and even potential isolated tornadoes on Tuesday. It’s the latest sign that climate crisis-fuelled extreme weather is an existential threat.

Over the weekend, Elsa slammed the Caribbean islands and killed at least three people in the Dominican Republic and St. Lucia. After making landfall on Monday in central Cuba, where it brought heavy rains and caused minor flooding, Elsa has been moving up through the Gulf of Mexico and gaining strength.

As of Tuesday morning, meteorologists have clocked gusts over 80 km per hour in Key West and, according to the Associated Press, the storm’s maximum sustained winds are 97 km per hour.

The U.S. National Hurricane Centre said the storm is expected to move near the Florida Keys early Tuesday and will then pass near or over portions of Florida’s west coast late Tuesday and into Wednesday. It could bring “life-threatening storm surge” and even isolated tornadoes, the NHC said. Over the course of the week, Elsa’s path is expected to continue up much of the southern East Coast, reaching as far north as New Jersey by Friday.

Heavy rain and strong winds have already begun to lash the Florida Keys and Southwest Florida Tuesday morning, and things will likely get worse.

The Florida Keys, from Craig Key up to the Dry Tortugas, are under Tropical Storm Warning, as is the state’s entire west coast. Gov. Ron DeSantis expanded a state of emergency on Monday to cover 26 of the state’s 67 counties.

Over the weekend, the White House approved an emergency declaration for the state ahead of the storm, beginning on July 4. The order authorizes the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to begin coordinating disaster relief efforts.

To help residents prepare, the counties of Hillsborough, Pinellas, Hernando, and Manatee along the Gulf coast have started opening shelters for residents. Hernando County also issued a voluntary evacuation order.

Local utilities Duke Energy and Tampa Electric both have power utility crews on standby, preparing to restore power safely in the case of outages. Florida Power & Light also says it’s activated its emergency response plan and has 6,000 workers prepared to respond.

Tropical Storm Elsa is the fifth named storm of 2021, marking the earliest fifth named storm on record and therein beating out the record just set last year. As it approached Barbados on Friday, Elsa briefly reached hurricane-level strength, becoming the first hurricane of the Atlantic season. Storms have been forming earlier in the year as ocean and air temperatures have increased due to the climate crisis.

The storm is expected to hit Florida as search and rescue crews attempt to find potential survivors, or the remains of victims, from the collapse of a condo building in Surfside, Florida. Sadly, the risk of floods and tornadoes has forced workers to put their search on hold.

Elsa is also continuing to bring heavy rains to Cuba. The NHC expects rainfall of 13 to 25 centimetres and isolated maximum amounts of 38 centimetres, which could result in “significant flash flooding and mudslides.”

Elsa marks just the beginning of what’s shaping up to be a highly destructive hurricane season — one with a 60% chance of being more active than a “normal” season, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. So while Elsa will be bad, the worst part might be that it’s just a warm-up act.