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As a Weakened Elsa Approaches, Three Concerns Remain

 A tornado forming
Courtesy of National Hurricane Center
A tornado forming

It's hard not to stare into the eye of any storm, but the more mundane storm effects can pack a punch, so pay attention.

Flash Flooding

Flash flooding of swollen creeks and waterways is no unusual sight in the wet season, but meteorologists warn Elsa could bring rain-driven flooding starting Tuesday morning ahead of possible storm surge flooding.

With a topography that averages about 1 foot of elevation change per one mile of travel, storms in Southwest Florida can produce broad expanses of shallow sheet flow flooding conditions. This is worsened during hurricane and tropical storms when several inches of rain come all at once, as is predicted early for Tuesday morning. This broad shallow flooding can create severe property damage conditions for older houses and buildings that are not elevated or were built prior to current building codes.

But more importantly — driving conditions are seriously impacted with standing water over roads. Almost half of all flash flood deaths happen in cars. Attempting to drive through flood waters can damage any car. It only takes six inches to stall a car and a foot of water can wash your car right off the road.

- If you can’t clearly see the road, don’t try to drive through floodwaters. The road beneath could be washed out, and the water can be moving faster than it appears.

- If you’re in a car that is flooded don’t stay in it.

- If your vehicle is surrounded by floodwater, abandon the vehicle and move immediately to higher ground.

- If your car is swept into the water and submerged, first responders advise people not to panic. Stay calm and wait for the vehicle to fill with water. Once the vehicle is full, the doors will open more easily. Hold your breath and swim to the surface.

- If you are swept into fast-moving floodwater outside of your car, point your feet downstream. Always go over obstacles, never try to go under.

- If you are stranded on something above the floodwater, like a tree or building, stay put and wait for rescue. Do not enter the floodwater.

Storm Surge

The deadliest part of any tropical storm or hurricane is the water. In addition to the rain soaked terrain, the gulf sometimes rises to the occasion via storm surge.

Coastal surge flooding is possible as a part of this storm, according to our team of meteorologists with the Florida Public Radio Emergency Network.

Because tropical systems spin in a counterclockwise direction, in Collier, Lee and Charlotte Counties the highest storm surge occurs along the coast just south of the center of the storm, meaning if it does come, storm surge could arrive as the storm passes to our north into Wednesday.

The combination of atmospheric pressure differences in the storm and the effect on the Gulf waters from the high wind speeds creates a “mound” of seawater that is pushed onshore.

Surge flooding can occur quite rapidly with extremely damaging impacts to structures and quickly create life threatening conditions. It’s important to be ready to evacuate and know your area’s storm surge zone as you listen for any official call to evacuate.

Tornados and the Outer Bands

While much attention is spent on the so-called ”Spaghetti plots,” meteorologists often urge people to pay attention to the “sauce” too. That's the area between all those lines of potential storm tracks.

While the most fierce winds of a hurricane are in the eye wall, the outer bands of a storm are not to be ignored. Those clouds that build up into photogenic beauties can drop down tornadoes, damaging winds, and even create waterspouts miles and miles from the center of a storm.

So, while listening for all the warnings, know that if a tornado is spotted a warning will go out. A tornado watch means conditions are favorable for development of a tornado.

- If you hear a warning for your area you’ll need to get to a basement if you have one, or go to an inside room without windows on the lowest floor of your home (bathroom, closet, center hallway). If possible, avoid sheltering in a room with windows.

- For added protection get under something sturdy (a heavy table or workbench). Cover your body with a blanket, sleeping bag or mattress or anything soft.

- Protect your head with anything available.

- Do not stay in a mobile home.

- If you are outside or in a mobile home, find a nearby building (preferably with a basement). If you are in a car, don't try to outrun a tornado. Instead find the nearest sturdy building. Try to make a plan before the watches or warnings are issued, and let the whole family know what that plan is.

Copyright 2021 WGCU. To see more, visit WGCU.

Julie Glenn is the host of Gulf Coast Live. She has been working in southwest Florida as a freelance writer since 2007, most recently as a regular columnist for the Naples Daily News. She began her broadcasting career in 1993 as a reporter/anchor/producer for a local CBS affiliate in Quincy, Illinois. After also working for the NBC affiliate, she decided to move to Parma, Italy where she earned her Master’s degree in communication from the University of Gastronomic Sciences. Her undergraduate degree in Mass Communication is from the University of Missouri at Kansas City.
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