By Jason Hanna and Haley Brink, CNN
Updated: Sun, 04 Jul 2021 02:20:04 GMT
A tropical storm watch was issued for the Florida Keys as Tropical Storm Elsa battered parts of the Dominican Republic and Haiti with heavy rain and high winds as its center passed to the south on Saturday.
Elsa should move near or even over far southwestern Haiti later Saturday, before moving near Jamaica and parts of eastern Cuba on Sunday, the National Hurricane Center said.
The forecast is less certain after Sunday, but Elsa could bring heavy rain and gusty winds to South Florida next week as a tropical storm — including the site of the deadly Surfside condo collapse — according to the hurricane center.
The hurricane center issued a tropical storm watch for the Florida Keys, from Craig Key westward to the Dry Tortugas. The watch means tropical storm conditions, including sustained winds of at least 39 mph, are possible within 48 hours.
Tropical storm winds will likely reach South Florida Sunday night into Monday morning. The exact track and intensity of the storm are still somewhat uncertain.
However, there is growing confidence that the storm will track near or up the western coast of Florida, first moving through the Florida Keys on Monday and then reaching northern parts of Florida by Wednesday.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis issued a state of emergency for 15 counties on Saturday ahead of Elsa. He encouraged residents to begin preparation efforts, including stocking their disaster supply kits with a week’s worth of supplies and coming up with a disaster plan.
“We’re preparing for the risk of isolated tornadoes, storm surge, heavy rainfall and flash flooding,” DeSantis said.
The state of emergency covers Charlotte, Citrus, Collier, DeSoto, Hardee, Hernando, Hillsborough, Lee, Levy, Manatee, Miami-Dade, Monroe, Pasco, Pinellas and Sarasota counties.
Elsa had been a Category 1 hurricane Friday and early Saturday, but was downgraded to a tropical storm late Saturday morning.
As of 8 p.m. ET, it had sustained winds of 70 mph and was centered about 140 miles east of Kingston, Jamaica, the hurricane center said. The storm slowed as it passed between Haiti and Jamaica and is now moving west-northwest at 23 mph.
“An additional decrease in forward speed is expected tonight and on Sunday, followed by a turn toward the northwest Sunday night or Monday,” the hurricane center said.
A tropical storm warning is in effect for the coast of Haiti north of Port Au Prince, the southern coast of Dominican Republic from Punta Palenque to the border with Haiti, 10 provinces in Cuba and Jamaica.
Heavy rain is expected in parts of the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Jamaica through Sunday, with 4 to 15 inches possible, perhaps leading to scattered flash flooding and mudslides, according to the hurricane center.
The hurricane center said Elsa is forecast to move near the southwestern peninsula of Haiti over the next few hours, and then move near Jamaica and portions of eastern Cuba on Sunday. Rainfall of 5 to 15 inches is possible over parts of Cuba from Sunday through Monday.
“Little change in strength is forecast through tonight, but gradual weakening is forecast on Sunday and Monday when Elsa is expected to be near or over Cuba,” according to the hurricane center.
Significant flash flooding and mudslides are possible in Cuba, especially across the more mountainous regions.
The Cayman Islands also could receive 3 to 6 inches of rain Sunday through Monday, according to the hurricane center.
There was no loss of life or major injuries reported in Barbados after Hurricane Elsa passed through Friday, according to Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley, speaking at a press conference Saturday.
“It could have been far worse, but it was bad enough, and certainly one of the more challenging events we’ve had to deal with in recent times with respect to climate,” the prime minister said.
At least 743 roofs were damaged by the storm, said Kerry Hinds, director of Barbados’ emergency management agency. Roger Blackman, the managing director of Barbados Light & Power Company, says power service was fully restored to 65% of customers on the island and he hoped to have 80% of customers back within 48 hours.
Elsa’s path toward US coast is less certain
After Sunday, the forecast for the US coast, including Florida, is more uncertain. The hurricane center says that Elsa is expected to move across central and western Cuba on Monday and then head toward Florida.
Based on the latest forecast track, Elsa could start bringing winds and rain to the Florida Keys and southwestern Florida by Monday night as a tropical storm. It then could track along Florida’s west coast early next week.
The hurricane center forecasts Elsa will bring 2 to 6 inches of rain to portions of the Florida Keys and southern Florida.
But even the storm’s center tracks toward western Florida, the southeastern Florida community of Surfside is “still going to possibly see some impacts, even if it’s just some of the outer bands” of rain and wind by Tuesday or Wednesday, CNN meteorologist Tyler Mauldin said.
Search and rescue operations still are underway at the site of a June 24 condominium collapse in Surfside. A crew could demolish remaining units of the partially collapsed South Florida condo building as soon as Sunday, officials said, racing against time as Elsa approaches the state.
Otherwise, Elsa’s winds could topple the structure unsafely, officials said.
The US Coast Guard has set Port Condition X-Ray for the ports of Key West and Miami as Elsa approaches the Florida Peninsula, according to a Coast Guard press release. The condition means that sustained gale force winds between 39 and 73 mph are expected within 48 hours and that vessels and port facilities must begin a series of preparations that are detailed in federal regulations.
The ports remain open to commercial traffic but the Coast Guard warned that “drawbridges may not be operating if sustained winds reach 25 mph or when an evacuation is in progress.”
Elsa was the first hurricane of the 2021 Atlantic season, and the third named storm to pose a threat to the US coast.