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Elsa Strengthens Into A Hurricane With 'High Uncertainty' In Long-Range Forecast

The storm quickly strengthened overnight and is forecast to enter the Caribbean on Friday night.

Elsa quickly intensified into the first hurricane of the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season on Friday morning, but with a "larger than usual" uncertainty in its long-range forecast.

As of 2 p.m., the National Hurricane Center said Elsa strengthened even further, with maximum sustained wind of 85 mph.

The storm is located about 95 miles west-northwest of the island of St. Vincent and racing to the west-northwest at 29 mph.

A Hurricane Warning has been issued for Barbados, St. Vincent, the Grenadines, and St. Lucia.

A Tropical Storm Warning has been issued for the entire coast of Haiti, and a Hurricane Watch has been issued for the southern portion of the country from Port Au Prince to the southern border with the Dominican Republic.

Portions of the Dominican Republic, along with the Caribbean islands, are under a Tropical Storm Warning.

Florida Public Radio Emergency Network

The storm should pass over the Windward Islands on Friday, and enter the Caribbean Sea on Friday night, producing rainfalls of 4-8 inches — and maximum isolated totals of 15 inches — across the Windward and southern Leeward Islands.

The intensification is due to warm sea-surface temperatures, light wind shear and adequate moisture. However, uncertainty abounds on the track, strength and speed of the storm.

Though the forecast track remains highly uncertain, Elsa's motion is expected to gain some northward component by the end of the weekend.

The storm's fast forward speed is one of the many factors contributing to the low-confidence forecast. Strong easterly steering winds could make it difficult for the low- and mid- level circulations to remain in sync along its journey through the eastern Caribbean Sea.

There are still questions as to whether Elsa takes a west-northwest path into the Gulf of Mexico, a northerly path through the Florida peninsula, or a northeastward path parallel to the US Atlantic Coast. As details regarding steering features in the atmosphere become more clear, so will the forecast path of Elsa.

Conversely, much weaker upper-level winds are expected to have less of an influence over Elsa when it reaches the northern Caribbean Sea, making subtle changes in its trajectory difficult to pin down.  At the same time, however, the lighter winds aloft and warmer sea-surface temperatures could enable the storm to intensify at a faster rate than what is explicitly forecast.

But complicating matters further are the possible land interactions Elsa may have with the mountainous terrain of Cuba and/or Hispaniola, which could disrupt Elsa's circulation and cause the storm to weaken.

All of these factors yield significant variations in possible affects Floridians might experience from Hurricane Elsa. Therefore, vigilance over action is the best approach for now. Residents of the US Southeast also are urged to monitor the forecast.

Floridians are encouraged to consider preparations they might be able to complete over the holiday weekend if Hurricane Elsa were to become a more significant threat by Monday. Periods of heavy rain and strong thunderstorms may make this difficult at times across sections of North Florida and in the Panhandle due to an approaching front.

This activity withstanding, a near-normal weather pattern for mid-summer will stay in place through the duration of the upcoming holiday until potential influences from Hurricane Elsa in South Florida Monday.

Elsa became the earliest fifth named storm on record for the tropical Atlantic basin, surpassing the previous calendar year record set in 2020 by Tropical Storm Edouard on July 5.

Updates on Hurricne Elsa will be available around the clock and from official sources in the Florida Storms mobile app.

Copyright 2021 WUFT 89.1. To see more, visit WUFT 89.1.

Jeff Huffman is Chief Meteorologist at the University of Florida in Gainesville. In addition to his full-time position at the university's radio and television stations, WUFT-FM/TV and WRUF-TV, the latter of which he co-founded, Huffman also provides weather coverage to public radio stations throughout Florida
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