ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Elsa weakened to a tropical storm
on Wednesday as it threatened Florida
's northern Gulf Coast
after raking through the Tampa Bay area with strong winds and heavy rain
According to forecasters, the storm was moving
north, nearly parallel to the state's west coast.
A tropical storm warning was in effect for a long stretch of coastline, from Egmont Key at the mouth of Tampa Bay to the Steinhatchee River, according to Gov. Ron DeSantis
“We ask that you please take it seriously,” the Republican governor
said to reporters in Tallahassee on Tuesday. “This is not a time to go for a joyride because there are hazardous conditions out there.”
There were no immediate reports of damage or injuries in the Tampa Bay area, which is particularly vulnerable to storm surge, with the strongest winds expected to remain just offshore from the beach towns west of St. Petersburg.
The National Hurricane Center
reported that Elsa's maximum sustained winds were 65 mph (100 kph) early Wednesday, with its core about 50 miles (75 kilometers) south southwest of Cedar Key and moving north at 14 mph (22 kmh).
Elsa, forecasters said, would cut across inland north Florida as a tropical storm with heavy rains and strong winds, then move on to Georgia
, the Carolinas, and Virginia
before dissipating in the Atlantic Ocean
As Elsa approached the Tampa area on Tuesday, schools
and government offices were closed, and most public events were rescheduled, but Tampa Mayor
Jane Castor predicted the Stanley Cup
finals game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Montreal Canadiens would go on as planned on Wednesday night.
“We’re pretty sure,” she said.
According to the airport's website, Tampa International Airport suspended operations at 5 p.m. Tuesday and planned to resume flights at 10 a.m. Wednesday after assessing storm damage.
From a meteorology standpoint, this is a pretty spectacular radar loop of Elsa's core coming apart. It had been fighting dry air & shear for much of the day, but shear appears to have won. While still a fierce rain maker, it's much less likely Tampa/Fla west coast will see hurricane impacts pic.twitter.com/4OMeVJTPWn — Craig Setzer (@CraigSetzer) July 7, 2021
, the main electric utility in the Tampa Bay area, said in a statement that it had about 3,000 employees, contractors, tree specialists, and support personnel ready to respond to power outages caused by the storm, with additional crews brought in from other states
served by Duke.
“We’re trained and prepared, and we want to make sure our customers are safe and ready for any storm-related impacts,” said Todd Fountain, the utility’s Florida storm director.
Elsa passed over the Florida Keys earlier Tuesday, but the low-lying island chain was spared a direct hit; however, heavy rains and strong winds were forecast for the Keys through Wednesday.
The storm also complicated the search for potential survivors and victims in the June 24 collapse
of Champlain Towers South
, Florida, on the state's southeast coast. Despite this challenge
, crews continued their search in the rubble of Champlain Towers South in Surfside, Florida.
The National Hurricane Center has issued a tropical storm warning for parts of the coast of Brunswick in Georgia, with sustained winds of up to 50 mph (80 kph) expected in parts of southeast Georgia.
“Right now, we’re basically looking at a cloudy, rainy, and windy day,” Glynn County Emergency Management Agency Director Alec Eaton told the Brunswick News
on Tuesday, “but I’m confident we can sit down and let it pass over us without any major impacts.”
pic.twitter.com/2rs1hrDtFW — NWS Miami
(@NWSMiami) 7 July 2021
Emergency officials in South Carolina
were keeping an eye on Elsa to the north, but no evacuations were ordered during the peak summer beach tourism season.
The storm was expected to track inland, but coastal forecasters warned that the worst weather
would be on the storm's east side, bringing up to 5 inches (13 centimeters) of rain and wind gusts of up to 55 mph (88 kph) in places like Hilton Head Island, Charleston, and Myrtle Beach.
Earlier, Cuban officials evacuated 180,000 people
to avoid heavy flooding from a storm that had already battered several Caribbean
islands, killing at least three people.
According to Brian McNoldy, a hurricane researcher at the University
of Miami, Elsa is the first fifth-named storm on record.
This article was contributed to by Associated Press
writers Jeff Amy in Atlanta
and Jeffrey Collins in Columbia, South Carolina.