Elsa has weakened to a tropical storm with sustained winds at 112 km/h, according to the 2 a.m. update from the National Hurricane Center. Hurricane warnings remain in place along the Florida coast and the only changes are tropical storm warnings south of Bonita Beach being suspended.
Heavy rains, gusty winds and the threat of a tornado persist in southwest and west-central Florida, and it is still expected to make landfall Wednesday morning near Cedar Key.
Elsa is moving towards the Florida coast and is now near the Tampa Bay area. It strengthened to a hurricane on Tuesday, but weakened in the early hours of Wednesday.
The storm is expected to make landfall Wednesday morning over Florida’s northern Gulf Coast, according to the National Hurricane Center (NHC).
Thirty-three counties are in a state of emergency, Governor Ron DeSantis said at a news conference. The Florida National Guard also activated 60 guards to serve in the state’s Emergency Operations Center and Logistics Readiness Center.
“We are anticipating a landfall probably between 8 am and 9 am tomorrow, somewhere on the natural coast or in the Big Bend part of Florida,” DeSantis said. “There have been no generalized evacuation orders.”
President Joe Biden approved an emergency declaration for the state before the storm. The declaration, which began Sunday, authorizes the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate all disaster relief efforts in South Florida.
Downtown Elsa, with sustained winds of 120 km/h, was over the water about 100 miles south-southwest of Tampa at 8 p.m. ET, the hurricane center said. John Antapasis, Tampa’s emergency coordinator, encouraged residents to stay indoors and avoid the roads Tuesday night.
A hurricane warning is in effect from Egmont Key near St. Petersburg in west-central Florida to the Steinhatchee River in the Big Bend region of north Florida.
“The warm ocean waters give it that fuel to get the engine going back on and it could be near or with hurricane force” when Elsa makes landfall, Citizen Free Press meteorologist Derek Van Dam said.
A tropical storm warning, which alerts people to tropical storm conditions, including strong winds, is in effect for much of the rest of Florida’s west coast.
The Georgia coastline from the mouth of the St. Marys River to Altamaha Sound is also under a tropical storm warning, the advisory said.
Governor Brian Kemp issued a state of emergency Tuesday night that will expire on July 14.
Elsa’s outer bands could also drop rain on Florida’s east side, perhaps affecting areas like the Surfside community, where search and rescue teams are still working at the site of a deadly building collapse. Elsa’s approach triggered a controlled demolition Sunday of the remaining portion of the Champlain Towers South condo building.
As long as winds stay below 72 km/h, search and rescue teams can continue to search for signs of life; If winds exceed 72 km/h, crews are pulled out of the rubble, according to Miami-Dade Fire Department spokeswoman Erika Benítez.
A tornado watch was in effect for more than 12 million people in South Florida as of 11 p.m. ET Tuesday. This includes Tampa, Fort Myers, Miami, Surfside, St. Petersburg, and Sarasota.
The greatest threats from rain and storm surge are expected to be in West Florida.
About 3 to 8 inches of rain could fall from the Florida Keys to western parts of the Florida Peninsula through Wednesday, threatening flash flooding, the hurricane center said.
Storm surge advisories were established for the west coast of Florida from Bonita Beach through the northern parts of the Big Bend region, with the highest storm surge expected to be between 1 and 1.5 meters from Englewood to the outlet of the Aucilla River, including Tampa Bay.
People in South and West Florida have been preparing by filling sandbags, opening shelters, closing businesses and schools, and activating local emergency operations centers.
Cuba was receiving heavy rains Tuesday morning from Elsa. Rainfall of 12 to 38 centimeters was expected through Tuesday night, threatening major flash floods and landslides.
Elsa hit the Keys on Tuesday morning with rain and sustained winds of 48 to 64 km/h.
Residents and businesses prepare
Elsa, which was briefly hurricane-force on Friday and early Saturday to become the first hurricane of the season, made landfall in Cuba on Monday and crossed the Cayman Islands, saturating both areas with heavy rains and strong winds and causing landslides. of land and floods.
Florida authorities offered free sandbags to residents to help prevent flooding and are encouraging people to prepare by stocking up on supplies and heeding local warnings.
At least four counties in the Tampa area – Hillsborough, Pinellas, Hernando and Manatee – have opened shelters for residents, while others have activated emergency operations centers to prepare for the storm.
“You want to be prepared for anything,” an employee at the Pinellas County Emergency Operations Center told Citizen Free Press affiliate WFTS. “You really never know.”
“We have had other storms in the past that looked like nothing, but they ended up with a lot of flood damage,” the emergency official warned.
Manatee County could “have terms near the edge of a hurricane,” Rep. Vern Buchanan said.
“Please finish your plans and secure your homes and prepare for some kind of shelter and weather this storm,” said Manatee County Manager Scott Hopes.
Tampa Mayor Jane Castor pleaded with city residents to stay home Tuesday night.
“You don’t need to go out. Don’t go out. We’re going to have a lot of rain, a lot of wind. Don’t get into water that you can’t see through, so that means don’t drive in the water, period,” Castor said.
Busch Gardens in Tampa Bay planned to close “to ensure the safety of our ambassadors, guests and animals,” according to the park’s website. Right now, the venue is expected to reopen at noon on Wednesday.
Tampa International Airport said it would close commercial flights at 5 p.m. ET Tuesday, and cargo flights at 10 p.m. The reopening was anticipated on Wednesday at 10 am.
In Fort Myers, Southwest Florida International Airport said it would cancel flights Tuesday afternoon.
Sarasota Bradenton International Airport plans to close at 6:30 p.m. after the last commercial arrival scheduled for 5:30 p.m., according to the airport’s website. The airport plans to resume normal operations on Wednesday at 6 a.m.
People lined up Monday in Manatee and Hillsborough counties to fill free sandbags to help prevent flooding.
A new Florida resident told WFTS that she has never been in a tropical storm.
“This is our first experience. We received notification that we might get sandbags, and we are in some water, so we just want to do as much as we can at this point,” the woman said.
Some companies are even closing before the storm.
Niall Bowen, owner of Old Town Bakery in Key West, will shut down his business Tuesday because the storm will affect his supply chain and deliveries, he told Citizen Free Press affiliate WSVN.
“As far as impact is concerned, I don’t think we’re going to have a major weather event,” Bowen said.
In Georgia and the Carolinas later this week
The current forecast after making landfall in western Florida indicates that the storm is moving northeast across the Georgia lowlands – perhaps as a tropical storm, Wednesday – and the Carolinas, perhaps as a tropical depression Thursday.
It could go out to the Atlantic on Thursday or Friday.
Elsa could then be a generator of rain for the extreme east coast until it enters the North Atlantic.
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