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Approaching Hurricane Elsa extends Tampa Bay tornado watch to 8 a.m.

The storm is expected to brush past Tampa Bay and make landfall north of the region.
Palm trees blow in the wind in front of an overcast Tampa skyline before Tropical Storm Elsa approaches the area on Tuesday, July 6, 2021.
Palm trees blow in the wind in front of an overcast Tampa skyline before Tropical Storm Elsa approaches the area on Tuesday, July 6, 2021. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
Published Jul. 6
Updated Jul. 7

Hurricane Elsa remained on course to brush by the Tampa Bay region as a Category 1 storm late Tuesday, according to the National Hurricane Center.’s 11 p.m. Tuesday advisory.

A hurricane warning was issued for Pinellas County at 2 p.m. and then hours later, Elsa was upgraded from tropical storm status. Meteorologists expect Elsa to pass Tampa Bay overnight Tuesday and make landfall to the north in the Citrus-Levy-Dixie county areas.

Elsa was generating maximum sustained winds of 75 mph with higher gusts, according to the 11 p.m. advisory, which is the minimum level of sustained winds to be considered a Category 1 hurricane.

Forecasters initially expected Elsa to be a tropical storm when it brushed past the Tampa Bay coastline, but the hurricane center projects the storm will remain a hurricane until it makes landfall.

The National Weather Services also extended the tornado watch for the Tampa Bay region and much of central and southwest Florida until 8 a.m.

Elsa regained hurricane strength in the Gulf of Mexico, according to the National Hurricane Center's 8 p.m. Tuesday advisory. Forecasters project the storm will make landfall as a hurricane on Wednesday morning.
Elsa regained hurricane strength in the Gulf of Mexico, according to the National Hurricane Center's 8 p.m. Tuesday advisory. Forecasters project the storm will make landfall as a hurricane on Wednesday morning. [ National Hurricane Center ]

Elsa gained just a bit more strength as it traveled through warm Gulf waters.

“It’s not that much different, we’re just increasing by 5 mph,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Stephen Shively. ”The impacts won’t change and the storm surge we’re producing remains the same. The only difference is that we’ll call it Hurricane Elsa instead of Tropical Storm Elsa.”

Elsa has many similarities with Tropical Storm Eta, which drenched Tampa Bay in November. Shiveley said meteorologists at the National Weather Service’s Ruskin Office have briefly mixed the storms up in conversation at times.

Eta passed just north of Tampa Bay after tracking close to the Pinellas County coast — the exact path Elsa is projected to take. Eta also arrived in the middle of the night, causing floodwaters to inundate areas around South Tampa and Tampa General Hospital. Bayshore Boulevard and the Tampa Riverwalk were also completely underwater, while deputies in Pinellas County deployed high-water vehicles to rescue 33 people.

A pickup truck partially submerged near S Bayshore Boulevard in Safety Harbor as Tropical Storm Eta struck the Tampa Bay area on Nov. 12, 2020. Meteorologists are comparing Hurricane Elsa to Tropical Storm Eta.
A pickup truck partially submerged near S Bayshore Boulevard in Safety Harbor as Tropical Storm Eta struck the Tampa Bay area on Nov. 12, 2020. Meteorologists are comparing Hurricane Elsa to Tropical Storm Eta. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

But the storms aren’t identical. Elsa’s arrival off the Pinellas coast isn’t expected to coincide with high tide, according to Shiveley. That means the region will be slightly less susceptible to flooding on the coast. The hurricane center estimates Tampa Bay will experience two to four feet of storm surge.

“There will still be flooding and Bayshore Boulevard will still be underwater like always,” Shiveley said. “But it won’t be quite as dramatic as last year if the timing remains the same.”

Flooding isn’t the only risk as the extended tornado watch indicates. The increased risk of tornadoes is common as tropical systems near landfall. While they’re significantly weaker than tornadoes that spawn in the plains, Shiveley said that they can still cause significant damage — especially to manufactured homes, carports and some trees.

As for rain totals, Elsa is expected to drop its share. Forecasters said much of Florida’s Gulf Coast is expected to see wind, rain, and surge impacts. This area of Florida will be hit with Elsa’s east side, which meteorologists say is more powerful. Exact figures will range anywhere from two to six inches, according to the hurricane center.

Related: Florida is more prone to tornadoes than you think

Conditions will deteriorate starting Tuesday afternoon into Tuesday night as squalls from Elsa’s outer bands move into the area, bringing with them heavy rain, gusty winds and an increased threat of tornadoes, Spectrum Bay News 9 meteorologist Juli Marquez said.

Sustained tropical storm winds of at least 39 mph, with gusts near 70 mph, are possible on the coast, closer to where Elsa’s center is expected to pass. Individual winds gusts could reach up to about 55 mph even in areas away far from the storm’s center, Marquez said.

Tropical storm force winds from Tropical Storm Elsa will most likely arrive in the Tampa Bay by Tuesday evening, according to the National Hurricane Center.
Tropical storm force winds from Tropical Storm Elsa will most likely arrive in the Tampa Bay by Tuesday evening, according to the National Hurricane Center. [ National Hurricane Center ]

Marquez said Elsa’s rainfall will land on Tampa Bay terrain already saturated by heavy rains in the past couple of weeks. She noted heavy rain on Saturday flooded some Tampa streets.

“So an additional several inches of rain could cause more flooding of streets and low lying areas, and certainly we have to watch for river flooding,” Marquez said.

Forecasters were watching Tuesday for Elsa to make a predicted turn to the northeast, which would dictate where the storm will make landfall, she said.

Gov. Ron DeSantis expanded a state of emergency to cover a dozen counties where Elsa was expected to make a swift passage on Wednesday, and President Joe Biden approved an emergency declaration for the state ahead of the storm.

This graphic from the National Hurricane Center shows Tropical Storm Elsa could bring two to six inches of rain to the Tampa Bay area.
This graphic from the National Hurricane Center shows Tropical Storm Elsa could bring two to six inches of rain to the Tampa Bay area. [ National Hurricane Center ]

This is a developing story. Check tampabay.com for updates.

• • •

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