All eyes were on Tropical Storm Elsa on Sunday as it churned closer to Florida with a likely landfall early this week.
Tropical storm conditions with winds over 39 mph could whip up by late Monday in South Florida, forecasters said, a concern that helped spur a decision to demolish the remains of a condo that collapsed in Surfside, near Miami Beach. Officials fear strong winds from the storm could topple the portion of the condo still standing, endangering rescue crews. Work could begin as early as Sunday.
Even if the storm tracks west, South Florida would not be completely spared. "We have a building here in Surfside that is tottering. It is structurally unsound,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said. “And although the eye of the storm is not likely to pass over this direction, you could feel gusts in this area.”
DeSantis issued a state of emergency Saturday for 15 counties and urged residents to prepare. A tropical storm warning was issued Sunday for the Florida Keys from Craig Key westward to the Dry Tortugas. Under a tropical storm watch: the Florida Keys from Craig Key eastward to Ocean Reef, including Florida Bay, and the southwest coast of Florida from Flamingo northward to Bonita Beach.
Elsa, downgraded 24 hours earlier from being the first hurricane of the 2021 season, was nearing Cuba on Sunday after killing three people in St. Lucia and the Dominican Republic and leaving a trail of damage and power outages. Heavy rains and tropical storm-force winds were expected to spread over eastern Cuba, the National Hurricane Center said.
The storm was about 40 miles south-southeast of Cabo Cruz, Cuba, on Sunday afternoon and had maximum sustained winds of 60 mph, the hurricane center said. Elsa was moving toward the northwest at 14 mph. The storm was predicted to move across central and western Cuba and head toward the Florida Straits on Monday, passing near the Florida Keys early Tuesday.
Elsa was expected to move near or over portions of the west coast of Florida on Tuesday and Wednesday, the hurricane center said. The storm could make landfall north of Tampa, Accuweather meteorologists said.
Storm strikes Caribbean: Category 1 Hurricane Elsa roars across Caribbean; Florida in path early next week
Slight strengthening of the storm was possible on Sunday, the National Hurricane Center said, but gradual weakening was forecast for later in the day and Monday when Elsa moves across Cuba. After the storm emerges over the Florida Straits and southeastern Gulf of Mexico re-strengthening is possible, the hurricane center said.
"The impacts from Elsa on the United States will likely depend on how the storm does over Cuba," AccuWeather Meteorologist Thomas Geiger said. "The longer that Elsa travels over the warm Caribbean water, more likely the storm will maintain high-end tropical storm strength."
Elsa was expected to produce its heaviest rainfall totals of 4 to 8 inches, with local maximums of up to 15 inches possible, across portions of Cuba and Florida, Accuweather said.
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Elsa became the earliest E storm on record, beating out Edouard, which formed July 6, 2020. Elsa is the fifth named storm of the season in the Atlantic.
The storm, which roared ashore in Barbados as a Category 1 hurricane Friday, was the first hurricane to hit Barbados in more than 60 years.
Contributing: Doyle Rice; The Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Tropical Storm Elsa is tracking closer to Florida