Tropical Storm Elsa threatens NC, SC coasts with winds and rain. Here’s the forecast

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Tropical Storm Elsa is expected to lash the coastal Carolinas with heavy rain and strong winds starting Wednesday.

Elsa was located 35 miles West of Cedar Key, Florida, and 115 miles northwest of Tampa, Florida, as of 8 a.m. Wednesday. The storm was moving north at 14 mph with maximum sustained winds of 65 mph. Tropical storm force winds — which range from 39 mph to 73 mph — extend up to 90 miles from Elsa’s center.

A map from the National Hurricane Center shows Tropical Storm Elsa’s location as of 8 a.m. Wednesday.
A map from the National Hurricane Center shows Tropical Storm Elsa’s location as of 8 a.m. Wednesday.

Tropical storm conditions could reach parts of the Carolinas starting Wednesday night, forecasters say.

The National Hurricane Center has issued a tropical storm warning from the mouth of the St. Mary’s River in Georgia to the Little River Inlet in South Carolina, which is near the North Carolina border.

A tropical storm watch is in effect from Little River Inlet to Chincoteague, Virginia, covering coastal North Carolina.

A map from the National Hurricane Center shows where tropical storm watches and warnings have been issued along the North Carolina and South Carolina coasts as of 8 a.m. Wednesday.
A map from the National Hurricane Center shows where tropical storm watches and warnings have been issued along the North Carolina and South Carolina coasts as of 8 a.m. Wednesday.

The National Hurricane Center says a tropical storm warning means tropical storm conditions are “expected somewhere within the warning area” and a tropical storm watch means tropical storm conditions are “possible within the watch area.”

Elsa’s winds are most likely to reach South Carolina late Wednesday or early Thursday and North Carolina on Thursday, the forecast shows.

The storm could dump between 2 and 4 inches of rain on South Carolina’s Lowcountry, with up to 6 inches possible in some areas. Coastal North Carolina could get between 1 and 3 inches with up to 5 inches possible in some areas Wednesday night through Thursday night.

The rain could result in flash and urban flooding, forecasters say.

The mouth of the St. Mary’s River to the South Santee River in South Carolina could see 1 to 2 feet of storm surge.

The eastern part of South Carolina could also see a “few tornadoes” Wednesday night, and the “threat should shift to the eastern Carolinas” on Thursday.

The National Weather Service’s Wilmington Office says a high risk of rip currents is also included among the tropical storm’s main threats to the coast.

As of Wednesday morning, there’s a high risk of rip currents along much of the South Carolina coast and parts of the North Carolina coast. Other areas are under a moderate risk of rip currents.

A high risk indicates “life threatening rip currents are likely” and that people should stay out of the water as the surf zone is “dangerous of all levels of swimmers.”

Forecasters have said “interests” elsewhere in the Carolinas should also monitor the storm’s progress.

“On the forecast track, Elsa will make landfall along the north Florida Gulf coast by late this morning or this afternoon,” the National Hurricane Center said Wednesday. “The storm should then move across the southeastern and mid-Atlantic United States through Thursday.”

Elsa reached hurricane strength Tuesday evening before weakening back to a tropical storm early Wednesday.

Forecasters say “little change in strength is likely” until Elsa makes landfall later Wednesday. The storm is then expected to weaken after it moves over land.

Elsa’s current path shows it remaining a tropical storm while over North and South Carolina.

A graphic from the National Hurricane Center shows Tropical Storm Elsa’s path as of 8 a.m. Wednesday
A graphic from the National Hurricane Center shows Tropical Storm Elsa’s path as of 8 a.m. Wednesday

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper and state emergency management officials said Tuesday that residents in Eastern and Central North Carolina should “be prepared for significant rains and possible flooding.”

“Small changes in the forecast track of a tropical system can mean big changes in storm impacts and rainfall amounts,” state Emergency Management Director Mike Sprayberry said in a release. “That’s why close attention to the forecast for your area is important.”

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster and the state’s Emergency Management Division also encouraged residents on Tuesday to “finalize their storm preparations ahead of Tropical Storm Elsa.”