(Bloomberg) — Tropical Storm Elsa is raking Florida’s Gulf coast with wind gusts and heavy rain as nears landfall later Wednesday in a sparsely populated area north of Tampa.
Top winds fell to 65 miles (105 kilometers) per hour on Wednesday, down from hurricane strength at 75 mph late Tuesday, the National Hurricane Center said in an advisory at 8 a.m. New York time. The storm was about 35 miles from Cedar Key, about 110 miles north of Tampa.
The storm is on track to come ashore in a sparsely populated area surrounded by nature preserves. As it approaches, it could push a dangerous storm surge into Tampa Bay, raising ocean levels by as much as 5 feet. Elsa will likely cause about $900 million in losses, said Chuck Watson, a disaster modeler with Enki Research.
“Elsa is forecast to make landfall along the north Florida Gulf coast by late Wednesday morning and then move across the southeastern United States through Thursday,” the NHC said in the advisory. “Weakening will begin after Elsa moves inland by late Wednesday morning.”
Elsa is the fifth Atlantic storm this year and became the season’s first hurricane as it moved through the Caribbean last week, killing at least three people. It will also be the third named storm to hit the U.S. this year. While meteorologists don’t expect the tally of Atlantic storms in 2021 to reach last year’s record of 30, they’re predicting a more active hurricane season than normal.
Elsa, which is too far east to disrupt oil and natural-gas production in the Gulf of Mexico, could bring as much as 9 inches of rain across western and northern areas of Florida. From there Elsa will move across Georgia, the Carolinas, and Virginia, bringing heavy rain as it weakens.
The storm will likely re-enter the Atlantic south of New Jersey, gaining strength as it sweeps past New England and into the Canadian Maritimes by the weekend.