July 2 (UPI) — Hurricane Elsa strengthened further Friday afternoon — hours after becoming the first hurricane of the Atlantic season — and was on track to reach parts of the Caribbean and the U.S. mainland.
In a 5 p.m. EDT update Friday, the NHC said Elsa was located about 180 miles west-northwest of St. Vincent and 505 miles southeast of Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic. It had maximum sustained winds of 85 mph and was moving west at 30 mph.
A tropical storm becomes a hurricane with sustained winds of 74 mph. Elsa would graduate to a Category 2 storm if it reaches winds of 96 mph.
“On the forecast track, Elsa will move across the eastern Caribbean Sea tonight and move near the southern coast of Hispaniola late Saturday or Saturday night. By Sunday, Elsa is forecast to move near Jamaica and portions of eastern Cuba, and move near portions of central and western Cuba Sunday night and Monday,” the NHC said.
A hurricane warning was in effect for Jamaica, the southern portion of Haiti from Port Au Prince to the southern border with the Dominican Republic, and from Punta Palenque in the Dominican to the border with Haiti, the NHC said.
Several areas were under a tropical storm warning, including St. Vincent and the Grenadines, St. Lucia, Martinique, the coast of Haiti north of Port Au Prince and the Dominican coast from Punta Palenque to Cabo Engano.
The government of Cuba issued a hurricane watch for the provinces of Camaguey, Granma, Guantanamo, Holguin, Las Tunas and Santiago de Cuba. Tropical storm watches were in place for Grenada, Saba and Sint Eustatius, the Dominican Republic from Cabo Engano to Bahia de Manzanillo, and Cayman Brac and Little Cayman.
In the NHC’s warning cone, the storm is forecast to make landfall Tuesday afternoon on Florida’s Gulf Coast and move northward over the state — but as a tropical storm, not a hurricane.
Elsa is the fifth named storm of the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season, and is the earliest to arrive. Last year, Tropical Storm Eduardo formed on July 5.
The other storms that preceded Elsa were Ana, Bill, Claudette and Danny. All were tropical storms.