Tropical Storm Elsa brings heavy winds and life-threatening storm surges because it approaches touchdown alongside Florida’s west coast
It was moving north towards Big Bend, where it is expected to hit land on Wednesday morning, National Hurricane Center director Ken Graham told CNN.
In addition to heavy rain and floods, Elsa is threatened with strong winds in an already saturated region that could topple trees and power lines.
“The problem is that (even after landfall) this will continue to move inland towards communities in North Florida and South Georgia, with winds still at 40 mph and more,” CNN meteorologist Chad Myers said Wednesday morning.
“We had a lot of rain last month. If you get winds at 40 mph or 80 mph, some of those trees will fall over,” Myers said.
With squalls still possible, a hurricane warning will be issued Wednesday morning for Florida’s west coast from Chassahowitzka (about 60 miles north of Tampa) north to southern Taylor County in Florida’s Big Bend region.
After Elsa took the Tampa-St. Petersburg, some minor road floods were observed around Clearwater overnight, a local CNN crew said. Some localized flooding could still develop in these areas if the storm’s tributaries continued to hit them during the day, said CNN meteorologist Derek Van Dam.
The system weakened to a tropical storm early Wednesday after becoming a Category 1 hurricane on Tuesday. More than 13 million people are under a tropical storm warning in parts of Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina.
Elsa will drop 3 to 9 inches of rain in parts of west and north Florida by the end of the storm, the National Hurricane Center said.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis expanded his declaration of emergency to 33 counties on Tuesday as local, state and utility resources continue to prepare for the coming storm.
The Florida National Guard have activated 60 guardsmen and are ready to use others for storm-related operations such as flood rescues or humanitarian aid, it said.
Although Elsa’s greatest impact is felt in western Florida, outer bands also sent rain and wind to parts of the east side of the state.
In the southeast Florida community of Surfside, crews intended to continue a search and rescue operation at the site of a fatal condominium collapse unless the wind gusts exceeded 45 mph, a fire department spokesman said. After the storm passed, the Coast Guard was told that people would need to be rescued from the water more than 20 miles from Key West. At nightfall, the service was still looking for nine people in the water and 15 of them were saved, it said. Details of what led to the rescues were not immediately available.
Counties and utilities prepare for the storm
Before the storm, Tampa officials encouraged residents Tuesday to stay home and prepare.
“We are prepared here in the city of Tampa, but we also have to do our part,” said Tampa Mayor Jane Castor in a video posted on Twitter. “Don’t go outside tonight. If you don’t have to, don’t go outside.
“We want everyone to be safe in Tampa and we’ll be up all night monitoring the storm so you don’t have to,” she added.
The Tampa emergency coordinator previously said it was time for residents to move to safety.
“Now is the time to come home, get off the road and stay safe for the rest of the night,” said John Antapasis. “You should forge and finalize your hurricane plans and make sure you are in a safe place while … Elsa makes her way through the community.”
People who had to be on the streets should check the city’s flood map, Antapasis advised.
“Please finalize your plans and secure your homes and get ready to pull down some sort of bunker and weather this storm,” Scott Hopes, Administrator of Manatee County, said at a news conference Tuesday.
Shelters opened in at least five counties Tuesday and two counties issued voluntary evacuation orders.
Duke Energy, which serves 1.8 million Florida customers, was preparing for expected outages, according to its website. It had staged 3,000 “crew, contractors, tree specialists and other personnel” for the utility from Pinellas County to North Florida, the utility said in a press release on Tuesday.
Additional line workers and support staff have been brought in from the Carolinas, Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio, according to the announcement.
The University of Florida at Gainesville has canceled classes for Wednesday in anticipation of the storm, the university said in a statement.
Elsa is scheduled to travel to Georgia and South Carolina
Before Elsa’s landfall in Florida, tropical storm warnings were issued for parts of Georgia and South Carolina and tropical storm warnings were issued for parts of North Carolina and Virginia.
After landing in Florida, Elsa’s center will travel to Georgia on Wednesday and South Carolina by Thursday, and then finally move to the mid-Atlantic coast.
About 5 to 6 inches of rain are expected in parts of southeast Georgia and the South Carolina lowlands, the hurricane center said.
According to the Hurricane Center, about 1 to 5 inches of rain is possible on the coastline of North Carolina and southeast Virginia by Thursday night.
Georgia Governor Brian Kemp declared a state of emergency for 91 of his state’s 159 counties on Tuesday in preparation for Elsa.
“This storm system has the potential to wreak havoc on citizens in the central, southern, and coastal areas of the state of Georgia, and the possibility of fallen trees, power lines, and debris can make Georgia’s road network impassable.” in the affected counties to isolate homes and people from access to essential public services, ”said Kemp.
CNN’s Michael Guy, Rebekah Riess, Sara Weisfeldt, Dave Alsup, Devon Sayers, Tina Burnside and Camille Furst contributed to this report.