- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Tropical Storm Elsa brought strong wind gusts and heavy rainfall to the northern Florida Gulf Coast before making its way north Wednesday after briefly traveling through the Gulf of Mexico as a Category 1 hurricane.

The storm landed about 11 a.m. in Taylor County, Florida, and was expected to bring heavy rain, strong winds and potential tornadoes to parts of Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia before traveling up the coast, forecasters warned.

Tropical storm watches on Wednesday extended northward along the mid-Atlantic coast to Sandy Hook, New Jersey, including the Chesapeake Bay south of North Beach, the tidal Potomac south of Cobb Island, Delaware Bay south of Slaughter Beach and from New Haven, Connecticut to Sagamore Beach, Massachusetts, according to the National Hurricane Center.

Elsa had maximum sustained winds of 65 mph with its core about 65 miles west of Cedar Key, Florida, the National Hurricane Center said Wednesday in its 11 a.m. advisory. As of 5 p.m., maximum sustained winds had weakened to 45 mph about 115 miles west of Brunswick, Georgia, with forecasters predicting further weakening of the storm.

The storm was moving north at 14 mph and was expected to move over Georgia on Wednesday evening, over the Carolinas on Thursday, and move near or over the mid-Atlantic coast on Friday.

Elsa could cause flooding across portions of southeast Georgia and the low country of South Carolina, eastern North Carolina into southeastern Virginia, the Northeast and New England and western and northern parts of the Florida Peninsula.

In Florida, Tampa managed to avoid a direct hit from the storm as it migrated along the western side of the state. Although a hurricane warning had been in effect for Tampa, Hurricane Elsa weakened to a tropical storm during the overnight hours and drifted about 65 miles west of the city, Accuweather reported.

About 26,000 customers across Florida were without power Wednesday, but most of the outages were in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Polk counties.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Wednesday morning said about 10,000 utility workers will restore power as soon as it is safe to do so. He added there were not any reports of really significant structural damage in Florida.

“All things considered, where we looked at 72 hours ago, I think the impacts have been less than what we thought would be reasonable. So we’re fortunate,” Mr. DeSantis said. “But we’re going to be monitoring over the next few days how that affects the river levels and some of the potential for flooding.”

The Republican governor warned residents of flooding and downed power lines as the first landfall-making storm of the hurricane season approached. The ground in northern Florida is saturated from prior rains so Elsa will “exacerbate any of those issues” there, he said.

In the Tampa area, schools and government offices closed and most public events were delayed Tuesday. Tampa International Airport suspended operations Tuesday evening but resumed flights Wednesday morning, according to its website.

Crews continued their search and rescue efforts at the collapsed Champlain Towers South in Surfside, Florida, despite the storm.

Tropical storm conditions are possible in the watch area in the mid-Atlantic and northeastern states by Thursday night and Friday, the National Hurricane Center said.

The National Weather Service on Wednesday also posted a hazardous weather outlook for the Maryland portion of the Chesapeake Bay, Tidal Potomac River, and I-95 corridor through central Maryland, northern Virginia and the District. A tropical storm watch has also been issued through Friday morning for St. Mary’s and Calvert counties in Maryland.

The threat of a few tornadoes stretched across northern Florida and southeastern Georgia into eastern South Carolina Wednesday before it is expected to shift to eastern Carolinas and far southeast Virginia on Thursday.  

Elsa struck the Caribbean earlier this week, forcing nearly 200,000 people to evacuate due to heavy flooding and mudslides and killing at least three people, before traveling to Florida.

As of Wednesday, there wasn’t any tropical activity on the two-week horizon, Mr. DeSantis said, but cautioned this part of the year isn’t the “major leagues” for tropical storms, which are typically most active from August to October.

“There is going to be more activity. We don’t have anything on the horizon, but people just need to be prepared. As these storms come, we’re just going to have to deal with them,” he said.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in May projected a 60% chance of a busier-than-normal Atlantic hurricane season, a 30% chance of a near-normal season and a 10% chance of a less-active season. But forecasters at the agency said they do not expect to see the record level of storm activity witnessed this last season.  

The 2021 hurricane season could see 13 to 20 named storms with winds of 39 mph or higher. Six to 10 of those could turn into hurricanes with winds of 74 mph or higher, including three to five major hurricanes with winds of 111 mph or higher. The NOAA said it has 70% confidence in these predictions.

An Atlantic hurricane season lasts from June 1 through Nov. 30. An average hurricane season sees 14 named storms, of which seven become hurricanes including three major hurricanes.

This story is based in part on wire service reports.

• Shen Wu Tan can be reached at stan@washingtontimes.com.

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