At a Glance
Hurricane Elsa is speeding toward the Caribbean.
Elsa is expected to track through the Lesser Antilles Friday.
Its future regarding potential U.S. impact remains very uncertain next week.
Elsa has become the first hurricane on the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season as it approaches the Lesser Antilles. Hurricane Elsa will barrel into the Caribbean Friday, where warnings have been issued for the Windward Islands. Residents of the Caribbean and Florida should track the progress of Elsa closely through the holiday weekend.
The National Hurricane Center (NHC) said Elsa was centered about 40 mph miles west of Barbados as of Friday morning. A sustained wind of 74 mph and gust of 86 mph was measured on Barbados early Friday.
A hurricane warning has been issued for Barbados, St. Vincent, the Grenadines and St. Lucia. Hurricane conditions are occurring on Barbados and are expected in the warning area in the next few hours.
Tropical storm warnings have been issued for parts of the Windward Islands, where tropical storm force conditions (winds of at least 39 mph) are expected on Friday.
A tropical storm warning has also been issued for the southern coast of the Dominican Republic and portions of Haiti where tropical storm conditions are expected Saturday.
A hurricane watch has also been posted for the southern portion of Haiti. A hurricane watch means hurricane conditions are possible and are typically issued 48 hours before tropical storm force winds are expected to begin.
Tropical storm watches have been issued for Jamaica, meaning tropical storm conditions are possible here this weekend.
Elsa is tracking quickly westward at 28 mph. The quick forward speed should limit rainfall totals.
A storm surge will raise water levels by as much as 1 to 3 feet above normal tide levels in areas of onshore winds in the hurricane warning area in the Windward Islands and along the southern coast of Hispaniola.
The NHC says rainfall totals of 3 to 6 inches with isolated totals up to 10 inches are possible in the Windward and southern Leeward Islands Friday. This could lead to isolated flash flooding and mudslides. That said, the system’s fast forward speed will limit the heavy rain threat that might otherwise be greater.
Elsa will then move across the central and western Caribbean over the weekend. Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Hispaniola, Jamaica and Cuba might see heavy rainfall and strong winds from this system during that time. Puerto Rico may receive 1 to 3 inches of rainfall with localized amounts of 5 inches Friday into Saturday.
As this system moves through or past Hispaniola, it could bring heavy rainfall and storm surge to the island. Up to a foot of rain could fall in southern Haiti, with much of the southern portions of the country picking up 4 to 8 inches.
Florida and the eastern Gulf of Mexico are included in the long-range forecast path from the NHC, however, it’s not certain what, if any, impacts it might bring to these areas early next week.
That’s because there are some important forecast factors yet to come into focus once this system tracks into the Caribbean that will influence its future.
One of those is how much land interaction with Hispaniola, Jamaica, and/or Cuba there will be to possibly weaken this system over the holiday weekend. Too much land interaction could disrupt Elsa enough and prevent it from staying intact past the Caribbean.
Elsa’s rather fast westward movement could also prevent it from strengthening too quickly in the near-term future as tracks into the Caribbean.
Another large uncertainty is when and how sharp the system is expected to reach the edge of the Bermuda High that is shoving Elsa westward. When Elsa reaches that edge, it will make a northwestward turn at some point later this weekend and early next week. A faster forward speed in the near-term will mean that this turn will also turn earlier.
The range of outcomes spans from a sooner, sharper northwest then north then northeast turn, recurving well off the Southeast coast to a much more gentle, subtle, late northwest turn into the Gulf of Mexico.
If Elsa tracks toward Florida, later Monday or Tuesday appears to be the earliest this system could impact parts of South Florida. Right now, Elsa is expected to increase the amount of thunderstorm activity in Florida during this time.
Check back to weather.com for updates over the next few days as the forecast uncertainty is narrowed down.
Earliest Forming Fifth Named Storm
Elsa is the earliest forming fifth named Atlantic storm on record in the satellite era (since 1966). The old record was held by Edouard, which developed a year ago on the evening of July 5.
The name Elsa is new to the list of rotating names being used this season. This year’s list was last used in 2015, but Erika was the “E” storm that year.
Erika was retired after it caused deadly and destructive flooding in the Caribbean Island of Dominica. Elsa replaced it.