Tropical Storm Elsa churns toward Florida's Gulf Coast

Tropical Storm Elsa approaches Florida's Gulf Coast on Wednesday, July 7, 2021.
Tropical Storm Elsa approaches Florida's Gulf Coast on Wednesday, July 7, 2021. (Image credit: NOAA)

Tropical Storm Elsa is approaching north Florida's Gulf Coast, with maximum sustained winds of 65 mph (100 km/h). The swirling storm is expected to drop up to 6 inches (15 centimeters) of rain, cause storm surge-related flooding and even trigger isolated tornadoes, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) forecasted.

The storm is expected to make landfall later this morning or this afternoon. As of 8 a.m. ET on Wednesday (July 7), Elsa was churning over the ocean about 35 miles (55 kilometers) west of Cedar Key, Florida, and 115 miles (185 km) northwest of Tampa. The storm is moving northward at about 14 mph (22 km/h) and is expected to weaken only after it moves inland later today, the NHC said.

The first hurricane of the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season, Elsa reached Category 1 status on July 2, only to be downgraded to a tropical storm on Saturday (July 3), when the storm was about 40 miles (65 kilometers) south of Beata Island, part of the Dominican Republic, in the Caribbean Sea. The NHC had previously forecast that Elsa would again gain strength to reach hurricane status (when winds reach 74 to 95 mph, or 119 to 153 km/h); that did happen briefly Tuesday evening, but the storm weakened again this morning, The Weather Channel reported

Related: Hurricane season: How long it lasts and what to expect

The NHC is forecasting that Elsa will turn toward the north-northeast later Wednesday afternoon or tonight, and by late Thursday it should be moving even faster in the northeastward direction, as it treks across the southeastern U.S. and mid-Atlantic.

Hurricane conditions are expected someplace along the west coast of Florida from Chassahowitzka to the Steinhatchee River, where a hurricane warning is in effect. A tropical storm warning is in effect for the west coast of Florida from south of Chassahowitzka to the middle of Longboat Key, and north of the Steinhatchee River to Ochlockonee River. Tropical storm warnings are also in place from the mouth of St. Marys River, Georgia, to Little River Inlet, South Carolina.

Storm surges can be the most life-threatening effects of hurricanes, as rising water moves inland from the coast to inundate areas. Storm surge warnings are in effect for the west coast of Florida from the Middle of Longboat Key to the Aucilla River — that includes Tampa Bay — the NHC said. If you are located in one of these areas, the NHC said to take necessary actions to protect yourself and your property, including following any evacuation orders from local officials.

Elsa could spawn tornadoes across west-central to north Florida through Wednesday afternoon and through tonight across southeast Georgia and eastern South Carolina, the NHC said. On Thursday (July 8), tornadoes could be a threat for the eastern Carolinas and far southeast Virginia.

Not only is Elsa the first hurricane of the Atlantic season, but it's also the earliest fifth-named storm of a hurricane season on record, CNN reported. The Atlantic hurricane season, which lasts from June 1 to Nov. 30, is expected to produce a higher-than-average number of named storms (when winds reach 39 mph, or 63 km/h).

Originally published on Live Science.

Jeanna Bryner
Live Science Editor-in-Chief

Jeanna served as editor-in-chief of Live Science. Previously, she was an assistant editor at Scholastic's Science World magazine. Jeanna has an English degree from Salisbury University, a master's degree in biogeochemistry and environmental sciences from the University of Maryland, and a graduate science journalism degree from New York University. She has worked as a biologist in Florida, where she monitored wetlands and did field surveys for endangered species. She also received an ocean sciences journalism fellowship from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.