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Tropical storm warning issued for Tampa Bay region as Elsa approaches

A flood watch also has been issued for Pinellas, Hillsborough and other coastal counties.
The 5 p.m. update on tropical storm Elsa from the National Hurricane Center shows the Tampa Bay region in a tropical storm warning.
The 5 p.m. update on tropical storm Elsa from the National Hurricane Center shows the Tampa Bay region in a tropical storm warning. [ National Hurricane Center ]
Published Jul. 5
Updated Jul. 6

As Elsa moved over Cuba on Monday, Tampa Bay was pulled into the tropical storm’s warning zone — meaning that some tropical storm conditions are expected by midday Tuesday.

Tampa Bay remains within the storm’s cone of uncertainty, as it has since forecasters first started tracking it last week. And it falls within an area under a flood and storm surge watch. The National Hurricane Center said Elsa could cause storm surge in the Tampa Bay region of 2 to 4 feet.

The National Weather Service projects wind speeds of between 58 to 73 mph in the Tampa Bay region.
The National Weather Service projects wind speeds of between 58 to 73 mph in the Tampa Bay region. [ National Weather Service ]

As the storm moved along Cuba’s southern coast, its trajectory shifted “ever so slightly west,” said Dustin Norman of the National Weather Service’s Ruskin office. The storm is also lopsided, concentrated heavily on its eastern side, which isn’t good news for Tampa Bay.

“With the obvious really dangerous beach and boating conditions, it’s not going to be a good several days to be at the beach or anywhere on the water,” Norman said. “I would say people who are prone to flooding in tropical systems should pay a lot closer attention.”

In some areas, strong winds could cause flooding by pulling the water closer to shore. About 2-4 inches of rain are expected, according to meteorologist Josh Linker with Spectrum Bay News 9.

“There’s no southwest stretch of wind that is pushing water into the bay,” Linker said. “So the east-southeast wind will essentially be accessing water that is already in the bay.”

It will be easier to forecast how Elsa might impact the region — whether or not the storm gains strength or turns northeast, as projected in the current forecast — as it passes over the mountains of Cuba. The storm was expected to cross over Cuba on Monday night then head to the Florida Keys.

Related: Where to get sandbags: Gulfport, Pinellas Park, Hillsborough, Tampa, Pasco and Hernando

Elsa’s projected arrival in Tampa Bay was overnight Tuesday into Wednesday. As of the National Hurricane Center’s update 8 p.m. Monday, Elsa was 115 miles south of Key West, moving northwest at 13 mph with maximum sustained winds of 50 mph.

The National Hurricane Center expected this direction and speed to continue for much for the day Monday before it turns north-northwest Tuesday.

Tropical storm-force winds were mostly confined within about 60 miles of the storm’s center.

Hernando County joined other counties in the Tampa Bay region Monday in declaring a state of emergency with Elsa approaching. The designation lasts seven days or until rescinded. The county issued a voluntary evacuation order for those living in low-lying areas, flood-prone areas and mobile homes.

A shelter will open at 9 a.m. Tuesday at the Enrichment Center, 800 John Gary Grubbs Boulevard in Brooksville. Residents can find their evacuation zone here.

Hillsborough County will open an emergency storm shelter at Riverview High School on Tuesday for residents. The shelter will open at 8 a.m. and will be available until the storm passes.

Pinellas County also announced the opening of two shelters. The Lealman Exchange shelter at 5175 45th Street N in St. Petersburg and the Ross Norton Recreational Center shelter at 1426 S. Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue in Clearwater will both open at 7 a.m. Tuesday.

Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties have also issued a state of emergency order. The declaration enables local governments to take steps like purchasing goods and spending public funds more quickly.

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2021 Tampa Bay Times hurricane guide

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NEED TO KNOW: Click here to find your evacuation zone and shelter