By Derek Van Dam and Taylor Ward, CNN Meteorologists
Tropical Storm Elsa is still several days from potentially nearing Florida — possibly around the site of the deadly condo collapse — as the third storm of the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season to threaten land in the US.
“It is too soon to determine what, if any, impacts could occur there next week given the uncertainty in the long-range forecast,” the National Hurricane Center said.
Elsa strengthened Thursday morning into a tropical storm with winds of 45 mph. Around 11 a.m. ET, it was 680 miles east-southeast of the Windward Islands and racing west at 28 mph.
A tropical storm warning is in effect for Barbados and Martinique, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines. A tropical storm watch is in effect for Guadeloupe and Grenada and its dependencies.
Elsa, which is already spawning memes for the name it shares with Disney’s “Frozen” princess, will pass near or over portions of the Windward Islands on Friday, bringing gusty winds and up to 8 inches of rainfall. It will then move into the eastern Caribbean Sea late Friday and Friday night, and move near the southern coast of Hispaniola on Saturday.
While the storm will bring tropical storm-force winds and heavy rain to the islands Friday, the fast movement could also limit the flood potential.
Elsa won’t impact weekend condo search, gov says
Elsa is not expected to impact search and rescue efforts this weekend at the site of the condo collapse in Surfside, Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis said Thursday.
“We are not expecting any impacts through Saturday,” he said. “But obviously, our meteorological team is actively monitoring the storm and will continue to provide any updates,” he said, adding the state Department of Emergency Management is working on contingency plans in case of storm effects.
State officials expect Elsa to turn northwest near South Florida by Monday, he said.
The Florida State Response Team has coordinated 500 on-scene local and state responders, DeSantis added. Search and rescue work at the site was temporarily halted Thursday because of structural concerns about the standing structure, the Miami-Dade County mayor said Thursday.
Early-season formation in the Atlantic’s Main Development Region
What makes Elsa unique is when and where its activity is developing.
As the calendar turns from June to July, climatology indicates a significant increase in tropical formation across the Atlantic Ocean’s Main Development Region (MDR).
It is however, unusual to see activity within this region this early in the hurricane season.
The MDR is roughly encompassed by the waters off west Africa through the Caribbean to Central America. It historically experiences an uptick in tropical activity between July and September because of warmer ocean waters, relaxing vertical wind shear and weaker trade winds.
These are all contributing factors to what the National Hurricane Center believes will be another above-average hurricane season.
Above-average season off to a weak start
Even though the 2021 Atlantic Hurricane Season has amassed four named storms, they have been short-lived and relatively weak.
One way meteorologists quantify how active or inactive a hurricane season has been is by tracking the Accumulated Cyclone Energy (ACE). ACE is a parameter that takes the overall seasonal activity (to date) and combines “intensity and duration of Atlantic named storms and hurricanes,” according to the Climate Prediction Center.
So far this season, the ACE index stands at 3.3, with a mere 5.25 named storm days. If Elsa progresses as predicted, it will begin a steady march toward the forecast above-average season.
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CNN’s Monica Garrett contributed to this report.