After starting hurricane season with 4 “tropical storms” that were probably not tropical, the first hurricane of the season has developed.
Hurricane Elsa formed as Tropical Depression Five late Wednesday night well east of the Lesser Antilles, and became Tropical Storm Elsa on Thursday. It rapidly intensified into a hurricane Friday morning as it approached Barbados. As Elsa crossed the Windward Islands Friday morning/early afternoon it produced wind gusts as high as 86 mph on Barbados and 79 mph on Saint Lucia. This is the earliest in the season that a storm has hit Barbados, and it is the 2nd earliest Hurricane ever in the eastern Caribbean, trailing only an unnamed storm from 1933.
As of 2am Saturday, Hurricane Elsa was centered approximately 620 miles east-southeast of Kingston, Jamaica, moving toward the west-northwest at 29 mph. Maximum sustained winds are near 80 mph.
Hurricane Warnings are in effect for southern portions of the Dominican Republic and Haiti, as well as for the island of Jamaica, with Tropical Storm Warnings for the remainder of the Dominican Republic and Haiti. A Hurricane Watch is in effect for parts of eastern Cuba, and a Tropical Storm Watch is in effect for parts of the Cayman Islands.
Elsa could strengthen a bit on Saturday, but for the most part, weakening is forecast. Some dry air got entrained in the circulation late Friday, okus the current rapid forward speed with both serve to inhibit any further strengthening, Although Elsa is expected to slow down over the next 24 hours, a turn more toward the northwest is expected. This will bring the storm closer to Hispaniola, where the mountainous terrain could disrupt the circulation as well.
Current forecasts bring the center of the storm close to southern Haiti Saturday night, then toward southeastern and southern Cuba on Sunday. The intensity of the storm will be determined partially by the track the storm takes. The longer the circulation center stays over water, the better chance that the storm is stronger.
As the storm slows down, it increases the chances for heavy rainfall across southern portions of Hispaniola, eastern and southern Cuba, and parts of Jamaica. Rainfall totals of 6-12 inches and locally heavier will lead to flooding and mudslides.
Elsa is expected to cross Cuba on Monday while turning northward. Given that this is already three days out, the uncertainty in the forecast becomes much large. A track towards Florida seems likely, but is far from definite at this point. Several models bring the storm up the west coast of Florida, while many others bring it up the east coast or even over the Bahamas. How strong the storm is at this point is also highly uncertain. Residents from the central Gulf Coast all the way to the Carolinas should keep tabs on the system this weekend, as it has the potential to impact anywhere within that range by the early to middle portion of next week.
Elsewhere, the tropics remain fairly quiet, with no other organized systems at this time.