High Winds, Rain Battering Tampa Bay Area As Elsa Heads North
The 2 a.m. update from the National Hurricane Center reduced Elsa back down to a Tropical Storm, as it continues to bring heavy rains and gutsy winds to the greater Tampa Bay region.
Elsa continued to march north along the western coast of Florida early Wednesday, bringing heavy winds and rains and possible tornado risk as it traveled just 60 miles off the coast of Tampa.
It weakened slightly during the night and was downgraded from a Category I hurricane to a tropical storm.
Heavy rains and gusty winds are spreading inland across southwest and west Central Florida throughout the overnight hours, according to the 2 a.m. update from the National Hurricane Center.
Flood Warnings were issued for eastern Manatee and Sarasota counties after midnight, where 4 to 6 inches of rain has already fallen from Elsa and a persistent heavy band was likely to continue over the same areas until about 4 a.m. Wednesday morning. Also, a tornado was spotted in eastern Manatee County near Myakka City around 2:30 a.m.
Storm surge also remains a major concern. Jeff Huffman of the Florida Public Radio Emergency Network said high tides will come in the pre-dawn hours of Wednesday and surges of 3 to 5 feet are expected.
He said water levels in Clearwater Beach were already 2 feet above normal at 10:30 p.m.
The National Hurricane Center says it a reconnaissance aircraft investigated the center of Elsa, and they forecast the storm continuing to move north at 14 mph, with winds near 70 mph, just shy of the 75 mph needed to upgrade it to a hurricane.
Elsa is forecast to make landfall along the north Florida Gulf coast by late Wednesday morning, with winds weakening quickly after that.
A hurricane warning remains in effect from Egmont Key, south of St. Petersburg, to the Steinhatchee River on the Big Bend coast. A tornado watch issued early Tuesday has been extended until 8 a.m. Wednesday for the region including Hillsborough, Pinellas, Polk, Manatee and Sarasota counties. More counties in North Central Florida also were added in Tuesday's 11 p.m. report.
Elsa emerged over the warm waters of the Florida Straits Monday night, where some strengthening was expected.
Elsa has decreased in speeds that developed at 11 p.m. Tuesday. Maximum sustained winds of 70 mph with higher gusts were reported at 2 a.m.
As of 2 a.m., Elsa was located about 60 miles south-southwest of Tampa. The storm had picked up its movement, moving to the north at 14 mph.
Elsa is moving to the north, where a path parallel to the west coast will continue Wednesday morning, followed by an eventual north-northeast turn and landfall along the Nature Coast early in the morning. It will then make a faster northeastward turn and move across the southeastern U.S. through Thursday.
Megan Borowski, meteorologist with the Florida Public Radio Emergency Network, said strong winds, heavy rain and isolated tornadoes will spread north on Tuesday night into Wednesday.
"I'm expecting Elsa's core to remain over the warm Gulf waters this evening, and that could help it to re-strengthen into a hurricane just prior to landfall with the Nature Coast early on Wednesday," Borowski said. "Widespread strong wind gusts and heavy rain will move northward along the west coast tonight. These winds and rain will move into North-Central and Northeast Florida on Wednesday, and could cause power outages and flash flooding. Brief tornadoes may develop anywhere over the peninsula tonight into Wednesday."
State of Emergency
Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency for 33 Florida Counties ahead of the storm and leaders from Manatee, Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco and Hernando counties issued local emergency declarations as well. The storm is causing closures and cancellations across the greater Tampa Bay region as residents prepare for wind, rain and a possible storm surge.
While Elsa was forecast to make landfall early Wednesday in the area of Levy and Citrus counties in largely rural North Florida, heavy rains are expected along the eastern side of the weather system, which means most of Florida should feel impacts of the storm, DeSantis said during a news conference Tuesday at the state Emergency Operations Center.
“It’s important that Floridians don’t focus on the (forecast) cone,” DeSantis said. “Impacts are expected well outside that area. And if you look at how the storm is, it’s incredibly lopsided to the east. So most of the rainfall is going to be east of the center.”
Watches and Warnings
In addition to the hurricane warning for portions of the greater Tampa Bay region, other warning across the state:
- A tornado watch is in effect until Wednesday until 8 a.m. for Hillsborough, Pinellas, Polk, Sarasota and Manatee counties.
- A storm surge warning is in effect for the west coast of Florida from Bonita Beach to the Aucilla River, including Tampa Bay.
- A tropical storm warning is in effect along the west coast from Flamingo northward to Ochlockonee River. It also extends into inland sections of northern Florida, including Marion and Alachua counties.
- A storm surge watch is in effect for west of the Aucilla River to the Ochlockonee River.
- Water levels could rise 3-5 feet in a few places near the beachfront, especially near high tide during the early hours this morning.
- Areas from Englewood to the Aucilla River — including Tampa Bay — can expect 3-5 feet of storm surge, and 2-4 feet from Bonita Beach to Englewood and including Charlotte Harbor. Other coastal areas can expect a storm surge of 1-2 feet.
- The surge, coupled with tides, could cause normally dry areas along the coast to be flooded by rising waters moving inland from the shoreline.
- Pinellas County has developed a tool to determine a property's risk from storm surge from Tropical Storm Elsa. Visit it here.
Areas from the Keys up through the west coast of Florida are forecast to receive 3-6 inches of rain, with isolated maximum totals of up to 9 inches possible through Wednesday.
Other areas can expect 2-4 inches, up to a possible of 6 inches through Wednesday night.
A flood warning has been issued for parts of the Little Manatee River. Pinellas County officials are also watching the levels at Brooker Creek, which is close to flood stage.
Heavy rains could result in flash and urban flooding, along with minor to isolated moderate river flooding.
A few tornadoes may occur from Tropical Storm Elsa's circulation as far east as the Atlantic Coast on Tuesday and into the overnight hours. Some of the outer rain bands and squalls may acquire rotation as they pinwheel farther away from the storm's center and encounter a more unstable environment from less cloud cover and warmer afternoon temperatures.
Areas most at risk for this to occur are roughly near and east of the I-75 corridor in North Florida and along and east of the Florida Turnpike in Central Florida.
Waterspouts and brief tornadoes may also occur from the outer rain bands closer to Elsa's center along Florida's west coast too.
Information from WUSF reporter Julio Ochoa, the Florida Public Radio Emergency Network and News Service of Florida was used in this report.