MIAMI (CN) --- The National Hurricane Center issued hurricane watch warnings along Florida’s Gulf Coast on Tuesday morning as Tropical Storm Elsa emerged from Cuba’s mountains with signs of strengthening in the warm waters of the Florida Straits.
By mid-morning, Elsa slowed to 12 mph, moving north-northwest past Key West with maximum sustained winds of 60 mph. Meteorologists predict Elsa will strengthen over the warm Gulf waters into a Category 1 hurricane within the next 24 hours and hover just west of coastal cities from Naples to Sarasota.
A hurricane watch is in effect for Egmont Key – a barrier island off of the Pinellas County peninsula – to the Big Bend region of the Sunshine State. A hurricane watch means that hurricane conditions and winds upward of 75 mph are possible within the area.
Elsa is forecast to make landfall Wednesday along the north Florida Gulf coast and then move northeastward across the southeastern United States through Thursday, according to the Miami-based National Hurricane Center.
A storm surge of 3 to 5 feet is expected along the west Gulf Coast. Rainfall totals may exceed 5 inches and could near 8 inches in localized areas.
“Much of north and central Florida have experienced above normal rainfall over the last two weeks, so we’re anticipating an increase in the potential of flash flooding,” Florida Lieutenant Governor Jeanette Nunez said at a press conference Tuesday.
on Tuesday morning, bands of thunderstorms from Elsa lashed the Florida Keys.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency before the Fourth of July weekend for several counties in South Florida and along the Gulf Coast. President Joe Biden also issued an emergency declaration for the state to quicken a response with federal resources.
Several schools will close early on Tuesday in anticipation of the storm. Tampa International Airport will cease all flights by 5 p.m.
Elsa became the first hurricane of the Atlantic season after strengthening suddenly last week. But the disorganized storm lost steam as it lashed several Caribbean islands. It moved through western Cuba overnight.
“The wind is blowing hard and there is a lot of rain,” Lázaro Ramón Sosa, a Cuban photographer, told the Associated Press. “Some water is getting under the door of my house. In the yard the level is high, but it did not get into the house.”
As the storm approached, rescue crews at the Surfside condominium collapse continued working. On Monday night, crews demolished the remaining part of the structure. Officials worried the rest of the building could come down on top of rescue workers. The death toll in the tragedy stands at 32, with 113 people still unaccounted for.Follow @https://twitter.com/alexbpickett
Subscribe to Closing Arguments
Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.