Tropical Storm Elsa strengthened into the first hurricane of the 2021 Atlantic storm season on Friday, threatening to unleash flooding and landslides in the Caribbean.
The storm could impact Florida early next week and officials are urging residents to make preparations.
Sustained winds were near 75 mph, making the storm a Category 1 hurricane, according to a 7:45 a.m. advisory from the National Hurricane Center. Hurricane Elsa was located 20 miles west-southwest of Barbados and moving west-northwest at 28 mph.
Elsa became the earliest E storm on record, beating out Edouard, which formed July 6, 2020. Elsa is the fifth tropical storm of the season in the Atlantic.
The Florida Public Radio Emergency Network said Elsa could turn north and weaken after strengthening into a hurricane.
Even though a track into the eastern Gulf is most likely, Elsa could potentially track northward over the Florida Peninsula — or even just to the east of the Sunshine State, according to AccuWeather forecasters.
There is a risk of storm surge, wind and rainfall impacts to Florida Keys and portions of Florida early next week, the Hurricane Center said.
“Impacts to the contiguous United States would begin Monday night at the earliest after the system passes through the Caribbean. Residents from the central Gulf Coast, across Florida and to the Carolina coast should monitor the progress of Elsa,” said AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Adam Douty.
The forecast uncertainty remains larger than usual because of Elsa’s potential interaction with the Greater Antilles this weekend.
AccuWeather predicts 15 inches of rain in Cuba and Florida from late in the weekend into early next week. Where the heaviest rain pours down will depend on the exact track of Elsa, but significant rain can occur well away from the center of the storm.
Hurricane warnings were issued for Barbados, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
Officials in St. Vincent and the Grenadines closed schools, businesses and an international airport on Friday. Heavy rains and winds were already lashing Barbados, which imposed similar closures late Thursday.
Authorities opened dozens of shelters in St. Vincent and urged people to evacuate if they lived near a valley, given the threat of flash flooding, mudslides and lahars, especially in the northern part of the island where La Soufrière volcano is located.
Track Hurricane Elsa
Contributing: N’dea Yancey-Bragg, USA TODAY; The Associated Press