Elsa, the first hurricane of the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season, strengthened as it entered the Caribbean and headed for Florida, the latest bout of extreme weather to hit the Northern Hemisphere.
The category 1 hurricane is about 580 miles (933 kilometers) southeast of the Dominican Republic, the US National Hurricane Center said Friday. It had maximum sustained winds of 85 miles per hour, making it the strongest July storm in the eastern Caribbean in 16 years.
Elsa, traveling at 29 mph, is on course to strike Florida on Tuesday and could veer into the Gulf of Mexico and threaten oil and gas platforms. However, the storm may weaken and change direction as it moves over Cuba.
“There is a risk of storm surge, wind and precipitation impacts in the Florida Keys and parts of the Florida Peninsula early next week,” said Jack Beven, senior hurricane specialist at the National Hurricane Center. “However, forecast uncertainty remains larger than usual due to Elsa’s potential interaction with the Greater Antilles later this week.”
Elsa is the Atlantic’s fifth named hurricane in what forecasters predict will be an unusually busy season. This is the first time in modern records that the Atlantic basin has produced many storms earlier in the year. It comes after a record heatwave that continues to scorch Northwest Canada and the US and as extreme temperatures have stifled China, Eastern Europe and elsewhere.
The storm is now the strongest to hit the eastern Caribbean in July since Emily in 2005, Phil Klotzbach, lead author of Colorado State University’s seasonal hurricane forecast, said in a tweet. He also noted that it was the furthest east the Atlantic hurricane had formed earlier this year since 1933.
Some forecast models suggest a different path for the storm after Elsa passes through Jamaica and Cuba, but there is a “significant possibility” it could shift toward warmer waters and turn toward the Gulf of Mexico with much stronger force, according to Jim Rouiller, chief meteorologist. in the Energy Weather Group.
The oil and gas industry in the Gulf should be “watching very closely” as they may need to evacuate some staff, he said, adding that he saw a possible repeat of Hurricane Dennis in 2005. It rapidly developed into a major, deadly hurricane. that hit Florida’s Panhandle — also on the US Fourth of July weekend.
“It’s definitely on the table” and “a bit worrying,” said Rouiller, adding that Elsa’s formation so far east and the start of the year are both showing very active seasons. “This kind of thing shouldn’t happen until August.”
Elsa forms between the Caribbean and Africa, an important factor because storms originating there before August often mean that the overall hurricane season can be very active, according to Ryan Truchelut, chief meteorologist at WeatherTiger LLC in Tallahassee, Florida.
“This is not a normal threat in terms of time and location,” Truchelut said. “There really is little historical precedent for a threat escaping the tropical Atlantic or eastern Caribbean in early July.”
Elsa will move across the eastern Caribbean late Friday, and reach Haiti and the Dominican Republic on Saturday. On Sunday, it will likely be near Jamaica and eastern Cuba, according to the hurricane’s epicenter.
A hurricane warning has been issued for most of the Caribbean, including the southern coast of the Dominican Republic and southern Haiti. The hurricane center said a slight change in strength is expected over the next 48 hours and that some wind reduction is possible on Monday as Elsa passes through Cuba.
“The fact that we already preceded last year’s tropical storms is a bit worrying,” said Randy Adkins, senior meteorologist at AccuWeather Inc. Experiencing five storms in the near future “confirms to us that we are on the right track. with a busier season on average.”