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"High Uncertainty" in Tropical Storm Elsa's Long-Range Forecast

5 AM NHC forecast track for Elsa
5 AM NHC forecast track for Elsa

Update: As of 5 AM Friday, Elsa has strengthened a bit overnight and now has maximum sustained winds of 60 mph. The storm should pass over the Windward Islands today, and enter the Caribbean Sea tonight. Additional strengthening is possible during this time and Elsa could near hurricane strength. Though the forecast track remains highly uncertain, Elsa's motion is expected to gain some northward component by the end of the weekend. There are still questions as to whether Elsa takes a WNW path into the Gulf of Mexico, a northerly path through the Florida peninsula, or a northeastward path parallel to the US Atlantic Coast. As details regarding steering features in the atmosphere become more clear, so will the forecast path of Elsa. Residents of the US Southeast are urged to continue monitoring the forecast. 

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Uncertainty is "larger than usual" in the long-range forecast for Tropical Storm Elsa, according to the National Hurricane Center. However, forecasters say storm surge, wind, and rainfall impacts are all possible across portions of Florida early next week.

The season's fifth tropical storm was racing toward the Lesser Antilles late Thursday, with maximum winds of 45 mph and a motion to the west-northwest at 28 mph. Tropical Storm Warnings continued for the central Windward Islands and a Tropical Storm Watch was issued for the southern and western coasts of Haiti and Jamaica.

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The official forecast track brings Elsa into the eastern Caribbean late Friday, with a trek to the west-northwest Saturday south of Hispaniola, followed by a deceleration and slight northwest turn near the southeastern coast of Cuba Sunday. Gradual intensification is expected over the next 48 hours due to warm sea-surface temperatures, light wind shear and adequate moisture. However, uncertainty abounds on the track, strength and speed of the storm thereafter.

The storm's fast forward speed is one of the many factors contributing to the low-confidence forecast. Strong easterly steering winds could make it difficult for the low- and mid- level circulations to remain in sync along its journey through the eastern Caribbean Sea. Conversely, much weaker upper-level winds are expected to have less of an influence over Elsa when it reaches the northern Caribbean Sea, making subtle changes in its trajectory difficult to pin down.  At the same time, however, the lighter winds aloft and warmer sea-surface temperatures could enable the storm to intensify at a faster rate than what is explicitly forecast. But complicating matters further are the possible land interactions Elsa may have with the mountainous terrain of Cuba and/or Hispaniola, which could disrupt Elsa's circulation and cause the storm to weaken.

All of these factors yield significant variations in possible affects Floridians might experience from Tropical Storm Elsa. Therefore, vigilance over action is the best approach for now.

Floridians are encouraged to consider preparations they might be able to complete over the holiday weekend if Tropical Storm Elsa were to become a more significant threat by Monday. Periods of heavy rain and strong thunderstorms may make this difficult at times across sections of North Florida and in the Panhandle due to an approaching front. This activity withstanding, a near-normal weather pattern for mid-summer will stay in place through the duration of the upcoming holiday until potential influences from Tropical Storm Elsa in South Florida Monday.

Tropical Storm Elsa became the earliest fifth named storm on record for the tropical Atlantic basin, surpassing the previous calendar year record set in 2020 by Tropical Storm Edouard on July 5. Updates on Tropical Storm Elsa will be available around the clock and from official sources in the Florida Storms mobile app.

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