Tropical Storm Elsa is likely to reach the eastern Gulf of Mexico and hit Florida next week after rapidly intensifying, forecasters predicted Saturday.
Elsa rapidly intensified early Friday morning, becoming the Atlantic season’s first hurricane as it rushed towards the Caribbean islands. Elsa grew from a tropical storm with 40-mph gusts to a Category 1 hurricane with 75-mph winds in less than 24 hours.
By its maximum sustained winds increasing by at least 35 mph within 24 hours, the storm’s strengthening just met the criteria set by the National Hurricane Center to qualify as “rapid intensification.”
Later Saturday it was downgraded back to a tropical storm.
Forecasters at AccuWeather are keeping a tight eye on the storm, which is predicted to hit the United States after passing through the Caribbean over the weekend.
At 8 a.m. EDT Saturday, Elsa was about 440 miles east-southeast of Kingston, Jamaica, with sustained winds of 75 mph and heading west-northwest at 31 mph. Hurricane-force winds of 74 mph or higher reached out 25 miles from the storm’s core, while tropical-storm-force winds extended out up to 125 miles.
As of Saturday, AccuWeather forecasters say Elsa is most likely to enter the eastern Gulf of Mexico and approach Florida next week.
“Elsa is expected to regain wind intensity early next week once it passes north of Cuba and moves into the eastern Gulf,” AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Adam Douty said. “And there is a chance that conditions may be favorable for Elsa to affect Florida as a hurricane for a time during Tuesday and Wednesday.”
Weather conditions could begin to deteriorate in the Florida Keys and southern Florida as soon as Monday night. At this early stage, there is the likelihood of flooding rainfall, damaging winds and power outages over the Florida Peninsula with perhaps the worst conditions along the Gulf Coast side.
Rather than tracking along Florida’s Gulf Coast, Elsa might travel northward across the Florida Peninsula, bringing heavy rain and strong gusts inland. The precise location of the storm’s centre of circulation is critical in predicting wind direction and intensity as it approaches the Sunshine State.
The direction, size, and duration of the wind will determine the possible consequences throughout several barrier islands and inland bays along Florida’s Gulf Coast. Shifting winds will pound different areas of the state’s shoreline as the storm moves northward through the state.
This can all result in headaches for those looking for a safe place to moor a boat, or for those looking to prepare their homes and property for the incoming storm.
But Elsa’s exact track and strength – whether it approaches the U.S. as a tropical storm or a hurricane – will be determined by how it behaves over the Caribbean.