Elsa strengthens into a hurricane, the season's first, and could near the Florida Peninsula by next week

By Hannah Gard and Haley Brink, CNN

(CNN) -- Hurricane Elsa strengthened significantly Friday morning, becoming the first hurricane of the 2021 season.

It is the third storm of the season to threaten the US coastline, potentially nearing the Florida Peninsula by next week, including around the site of the deadly Surfside condo collapse.

Elsa's sustained winds late Friday morning were whipping at 75 mph, with gusts up to 90 mph, the National Hurricane Center said at 11 a.m. ET. The Category 1 storm was racing west-northwest at 29 miles per hour, about five miles north of St. Vincent.


It is expected to strengthen a little more in the next 36 hours, the hurricane center said.

Hurricane warnings are in place for St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and the southern portion of Haiti from Port Au Prince to the southern border with the Dominican Republic. A hurricane watch is in effect for Jamaica and the south coast of the Dominican Republic from Punta Palenque to the border with Haiti.

Tropical storm warnings cover Barbados, Martinique, Dominica, Jamaica, the southern coast of the Dominican Republic from Cabo Engano to Haiti border, and the coast of Haiti north of Port Au Prince. A tropical storm watch is in effect for Grenada and its dependencies, Saba and Saint Eustatius, and the north coast of the Dominican Republic from Cabo Engano to Bahia de Manzanillo.

"A hurricane warning means that hurricane conditions are expected somewhere within the warning area, in this case in the next few hours. Preparations to protect life and property should be rushed to completion," the hurricane center said in a special advisory on Friday morning.

Elsa was the earliest fifth named storm on record, pushing this season ahead of the pace set by the record-breaking 2020 hurricane season. The first hurricane of the season typically isn't seen until August 10, with the average date of a first tropical storm falling on July 9.

Puerto Rico could get up to 3 inches of rain

Elsa next will head into the eastern Caribbean Sea and move Saturday near the southern coast of Hispaniola. By early Sunday, it is forecast to be near portions of eastern Cuba.

It is expected to bring 3 to 6 inches of rainfall Friday to Windward and southern Leeward islands, with locally up to 10 inches. Puerto Rico could see 1 to 3 inches through Saturday. Flash flooding and mudslides will be possible in areas experiencing heavy rainfall.

Those near the recently erupted La Soufriere volcano in St. Vincent and the Grenadines have an additional concern to worry about: heavy rain causing lahars.

"As the volcano erupted, it deposited vast amounts of ash on the island, much of it at higher elevations. Heavy rain will mix with the ash, creating a slurry that may cause significant mudslide-like damage -- called a lahar," said CNN meteorologist Chad Myers.

"Across portions of southern Hispaniola and Jamaica, rainfall of 4 to 8 inches with isolated maximum amounts of 12 inches is possible Saturday into Sunday. This rain may lead to scattered flash flooding and mudslides," according to the hurricane center.

Elsa could impact condo search, governor says

Elsa within days could impact search and rescue efforts at the site of the condo collapse in Surfside, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said.

"It is possible that this area could see tropical storm-force winds," he said Friday morning. "Not guaranteed, but it is possible, and so our Department of Emergency Management is assuming that that will happen and making the necessary preparations to be able, obviously, to protect a lot of the equipment.

"You could potentially have an event with the building, as well," DeSantis said.

Search and rescue work at the site was temporarily halted Thursday because of structural concerns about the standing structure, then resumed in the evening. The Florida State Response Team has coordinated 500 on-scene local and state responders, DeSantis has said.

With Elsa's impacts on Florida "starting as early as Sunday night ... we're adding this special emphasis on this site because we understand the sensitivities involved," the governor said.

Miami-Dade County faces the risk of heavy rainfall and strong winds from Elsa from Sunday night into Monday morning, county Office of Emergency Management Division Director Charles Cyrille said Thursday night.

While officials don't think the county is in immediate danger, they have developed emergency plans, he said.

The Florida Keys and portions of the southern Florida Peninsula early next week face a risk of storm surge, wind and heavy rainfall, the hurricane center warns. How strong Elsa will be next week is also highly uncertain due to the possibility of land interaction and disagreements among the weather models.

The hurricane center has low confidence in the extended forecast track. Some weather models predict Elsa turns and stays east of Florida, while others take it into the Gulf of Mexico, leaving the entire Florida Peninsula in the cone of error.

"It is too soon to determine what, if any, impacts could occur there next week given the uncertainty in the long-range forecast," the hurricane center said Thursday.

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