Tropical Storm Elsa Makes Landfall in Florida and Heads North to Georgia

Elsa became the first major storm of this year’s Atlantic hurricane season to hit Florida’s mainland when it moved over Taylor County, southeast of Tallahassee, on Wednesday morning.


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Tropical Storm Elsa made landfall along Florida’s northern Gulf Coast on Wednesday morning, becoming the first major storm of this year’s Atlantic hurricane season to hit the state’s mainland.

While there were no immediate reports of catastrophic damage, officials and residents were still bracing for storm surges and potential floods along the state’s western coast as the storm continued to move toward Georgia.

Elsa came ashore around 11 a.m. in Taylor County, southeast of Tallahassee, after it passed over the Florida Keys on Tuesday, bringing rain and gusty winds. The storm became the first hurricane of the season on Friday, when it strengthened into a Category 1 hurricane before weakening into a tropical storm.

As of 5 p.m. Eastern time on Wednesday, Elsa was weakening over northern Florida, moving north into Georgia at 14 miles per hour with maximum sustained winds of 45 m.p.h., the National Hurricane Center said. The storm was expected to turn northeast late Wednesday, and move into South Carolina by early Thursday. Tropical storm watches remain in effect as far north as New Jersey.

“We’re feeling a lot better than we were at 3 a.m., watching this thing creep towards us,” said Mandy Lemmermen, a public information officer for Emergency Services in Dixie County, which is close to where the storm made landfall.

She said there was some tree damage in the county, but no reported injuries. She said she was keeping an eye on the tide; residents of coastal communities have been sharing videos of rising waters. “There are no reports of roadway flooding,” Ms. Lemmermen said, “but it is creeping up.”

Representative Kat Cammack of Florida, a Republican whose district includes Gainesville, said that she had spoken to officials in 13 counties, and that there were no unmet needs as of Wednesday afternoon.

“It’s been a pretty remarkable concert of officials at the federal, state and local level,” said Ms. Cammack, the ranking member of the House Homeland Security subcommittee on emergency preparedness, response and recovery.

She added that she was still concerned about the effects of heavy rain. “Florida has reached a saturation point in the weeks leading up to Elsa,” she said. “We have water oaks with shallow root systems. Any gust of wind can take them down.”

Tampa International Airport suspended operations ahead of the storm on Tuesday night, but reopened on Wednesday morning.

Elsa’s path was watched closely in the Miami area, where rescue crews at the site of the collapsed condominium building in Surfside were forced to temporarily pause their efforts on Monday because of lightning. The center of the storm passed more than 100 miles west of Miami on Tuesday afternoon, bringing rain and heavy winds but sparing the site from the worst of the storm.

Elsa cut through Cuba on Monday, bringing gusty winds, torrential rains, flooding, electrical outages and some property damage. Cuba evacuated 180,000 people on Sunday before the storm; in Havana, the capital, a fleet of state buses ferried passengers from rickety buildings to shelters. But Elsa weakened as it moved across the island on Monday, passing about 20 miles east of Havana, and the capital was mostly calm on Tuesday.

Elsa has been blamed for the deaths of at least three people elsewhere in the Caribbean.

The Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency reported one death on Saturday in Soufriere, St. Lucia. And in the Dominican Republic, a 15-year-old and a 75-year-old woman died in separate episodes on Saturday when walls collapsed on them in heavy rain, the country’s Emergency Operations Center said in a statement.

And at least one boat overturned in the storm. On Monday night, a vessel carrying 22 people from Cuba capsized about 26 miles southeast of Key West, the Coast Guard said in a statement on Wednesday, adding that 13 people were rescued, with nine still missing.

“These ventures are dangerous and can often lead to casualties, especially during tropical storms,” said Cmdr. Jacob McMillan of the Coast Guard. “The seas are unpredictable and unforgiving.”

Elsa is the fifth named storm of the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season. The first, Ana, formed on May 23, making this year the seventh in a row that a named storm developed in the Atlantic before the official start of the season on June 1.

Last month, Tropical Storm Claudette brought heavy rains, gusting winds and tornadoes to several states across the American South, destroying dozens of homes. It was blamed for the deaths of 14 people — 10 of them children — as it moved from the Gulf Coast to the East Coast. Claudette was closely followed by another tropical storm, Danny, which made landfall over South Carolina in late June before dissipating over Georgia.

The links between hurricanes and climate change are becoming more apparent. A warming planet can expect to experience stronger hurricanes over time, and a higher incidence of the most powerful storms — though the overall number of storms may drop, because factors like stronger wind shear might keep weaker storms from forming.

Scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecast that there would be 13 to 20 named storms this year, six to 10 of which would be hurricanes, and three to five major hurricanes of Category 3 or higher in the Atlantic. Last year, there were 30 named storms, including six major hurricanes, causing meteorologists to exhaust the alphabet for the second time and move to using Greek letters.

It was the highest number of storms on record, surpassing the 28 storms in 2005, and included the second-highest number of hurricanes on record.

Reporting was contributed by Ed Augustin, Johnny Diaz, Derrick Bryson Taylor, Daniel Victor, Chris Stanford, Eduardo Medina, Isabella Grullon Paz, Alyssa Lukpat, Jesus Jimenez, Mike Ives, and Azi Paybarah.

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