Tropical Storm Elsa, headed northwest at 14 mph with top winds of 65 mph, was about to make landfall in central Cuba, the National Hurricane Center said in its 11 a.m. EDT Monday advisory. Satellite imagery on Monday afternoon revealed that Elsa remained disorganized, but had a large area of heavy thunderstorms bringing heavy rains to Cuba, Jamaica, and the Cayman Islands. The outer rainbands of Elsa were spreading into the Florida Keys and South Florida, and they will push northwards through Florida over the next two days.

Figure 1. Visible satellite image of Elsa making landfall in Cuba at 12 p.m. EDT Monday, July 5, 2021. (Image credit: NOAA)

On Sunday, Elsa passed just north of Jamaica, and the storm’s counter-clockwise circulation pulled moisture-laden air northwards across the island’s high mountains, resulting in torrential rains in the capital of Kingston. Rains of 3-5 inches were common in the Kingston area, and the Jamaica Gleaner reported severe flash flooding and considerable road damage in Jamaica.

On Saturday, Elsa sped along the south coast of Hispaniola, bringing heavy rains and high surf to the coasts of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Two people were killed by collapsing walls in the Dominican Republic, weather.com reported; Haiti escaped significant flooding from Elsa. On Friday, Elsa passed through the Lesser Antilles islands as a category 1 hurricane with 75 mph winds, killing one person on St. Lucia.

Figure 2. Predicted total rainfall for Tropical Storm Elsa through Friday, July 9, from the 6Z (2 a.m. EDT) Monday, July 5, run of the GFS model. The model predicted widespread rainfall amounts of 2-4”, with one isolated area of over 6”. (Image credit: weathermodels.com)

Forecast for Elsa

Elsa is expected to spend about 10 hours crossing Cuba, maintaining a forward speed of 10-15 mph. This pace should cause only slow weakening of the storm, and when Elsa emerges into the Florida Straits on Monday night, top sustained winds should be 55-60 mph. The water Elsa will traverse from Cuba northwards to the Florida Panhandle are warm, with sea surface temperatures of 28-29 degrees Celsius (82-84°F).  The atmosphere will be moist, but wind shear will be a moderate 10-20 knots. These conditions are favorable for only slow development, and it is unlikely that Elsa will be able to regain hurricane status before making landfall in western Florida on Wednesday. The top intensity models on Monday morning called for only about a 5-10 mph increase in Elsa’s winds before landfall in Florida; the National Hurricane Center predicted a 5 mph increase in Elsa’s winds, putting it at 65 mph at landfall.

Figure 3. Predicted peak wind gust in knots (multiply by 1.15 to convert to mph) for Tropical Storm Elsa through Friday, July 9, from the 0Z Monday, July 5, run of the European model. Wind gusts of hurricane force (64 knots, brown colors) were predicted to remain over the Gulf of Mexico, but portions of western Florida were predicted to see wind gusts in excess of 46 knots (53 mph, orange colors). (Image credit: weathermodels.com)

Heavy rains, winds gusts of 50 mph, a 1- to 4-foot storm surge for Florida

Elsa will most likely be a rainy, messy tropical storm with top winds of 55-70 mph when it makes its landfall along the Gulf Coast of Florida on Wednesday morning. Flash flooding from 2-4 inches of rain, coastal flooding from a 1- to 4-foot storm surge, strong wind gusts in excess of 50 mph, and a few tornadoes will all be threats in Florida.

Elsa is expected to weaken to a tropical depression as it moves inland over Florida and then Georgia, but could briefly regain tropical-storm status as it moves off the mid-Atlantic coast on Thursday night or Friday. Elsa will then accelerate northeastward as a strong post-tropical cyclone, perhaps brushing Nova Scotia, Canada, by the weekend.

Bob Henson contributed to this post.

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Jeff Masters

Jeff Masters, Ph.D., worked as a hurricane scientist with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990. After a near-fatal flight into category 5 Hurricane Hugo, he left the Hurricane Hunters to pursue a...