Elsa rapidly intensifies to become the first hurricane of the 2021 Atlantic season

Elsa rapidly intensifies to become the first hurricane of the 2021 Atlantic season

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Tropical Storm Elsa strengthened early Friday to become the first hurricane of the 2021 Atlantic season.

By Friday night, the Category 1 storm had maximum sustained winds of 85 mph as it moved quickly in the Caribbean Sea, the National Hurricane Center said. It was about 475 miles east-southeast of Isla Beata in the Dominican Republic and was moving west-northwest at 30 mph.

Hurricane warnings were in place for part of the southern coast of the Dominican Republic and in Haiti, as well as for all of Jamaica. Tropical warnings or watches covered the rest of the coasts of Hispaniola.

The hurricane entered the Caribbean Sea Friday after causing damage in Barbados, St. Lucia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines, the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency reported. Barbados officials reported that there were collapsed houses, it said.

“We are getting a lot of reports of damage,” said Wilfred Abrahams, minister of home affairs, information and public affairs for Barbados, according to The Associated Press.

The storm is expected to pass by the southern coast of Haiti and the Dominican Republic on Saturday and to move near Jamaica and Cuba on Sunday.

Elsa could bring 1 to 3 inches of rain to Puerto Rico Friday night into Saturday. Across portions of Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Jamaica, rainfall of 4 to 8 inches, with isolated maximum amounts of 15 inches, is possible Saturday into Sunday.

Flash flooding, landslides and mudslides are all possible. A storm surge of 4 to 6 feet could be seen in southern Cuba, and 2 to 4 feet in parts of Haiti and the Dominican Republic, the hurricane center said.

The storm could be near Florida early next week. Just how strong will depend on how much it interacts with the land masses of the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Cuba. Rough terrain could weaken the storm if it travels across mountainous regions.

Elsa’s fringe impacts, like gusty winds and outer rain bands, could near southern Florida late Sunday and into Monday.

Elsa broke the record Thursday for the earliest fifth-named tropical storm of the season. It rapidly intensified in 24 hours from a 40-mph tropical storm on Thursday morning to a 75-mph hurricane on Friday morning.

It is also an unusually early hurricane. The average date for the first Atlantic hurricane of the season is Aug. 14. Elsa’s arrival is three weeks earlier than 2020’s Hurricane Hanna, which formed on July 25.

Phil Helsel contributed.

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