Hurricane warnings are in effect for Haiti and Jamaica on Saturday afternoon as Tropical Storm Elsa quickly closes in on the Greater Antilles. The storm will produce flooding rains and strong winds over portions of the islands over the next couple of days as the storm races through the Caribbean. The system could reach Florida as a strong tropical storm early next week.
ELSA WEAKENS, BUT NOT BY MUCH
The U.S. National Hurricane Center found that Elsa weakened slightly from a category 1 hurricane to a strong tropical storm on Saturday morning. The storm has maximum sustained winds of 110 km/h and it’s swiftly moving west-northwest at 46 km/h.
Sunrise on Saturday to reveal a more disheveled Tropical Storm Elsa than we saw on Friday morning, when the system rapidly intensified into a hurricane over Barbados. The storm is feeling the effects of its fast forward motion, which is making it hard for the thunderstorms to keep up with the centre of circulation at the surface.
Elsa’s path and speed are both the result of a large centre of high pressure parked over the western Atlantic Ocean. This high acts like a guardrail that prevents the storm from simply turning to the right and heading out into open waters.
THE STORM IS A MAJOR FLOOD THREAT FOR THE GREATER ANTILLES
Forecasters expect the storm’s centre to come very close to southern Haiti during the day on Saturday. The system will then move into eastern Cuba on Sunday.
Regardless of its strength, the storm’s greatest hazard will be flash flooding and mudslides on the islands in Elsa's path.
Widespread rainfall totals of 100 mm are possible across parts of Hispaniola, Jamaica, and Cuba as Elsa passes through the area, with much higher totals possible in some communities. This much heavy rain falling in a short period of time could quickly lead to major flooding issues on these mountainous islands.
Tropical Storm Elsa’s swift forward motion provides some good news to these islands, though, as it means the storm won’t linger and produce even higher rainfall totals.
Wind damage and coastal flooding are also possible during the peak of the storm’s strong winds.
FLORIDA IMPACTS ARE STILL UNCERTAIN
The latest NHC forecast indicates that Elsa will reach Florida’s west coast as a tropical storm on Tuesday morning, and then move through coastal communities in the southeastern United States through mid-week.
However, the storm’s ragged structure and the mountainous terrain along its predicted path leave a looming question mark over Elsa’s impacts on Florida.
Elsa would have to survive the mountains of Hispaniola and Cuba before it reaches Florida. Mountains can make quick work of disrupting a tropical cyclone. It's certainly possible that the storm will make it across the Greater Antilles, though, and Florida should watch the system closely as we head into next week.
It’s also too early to say what effects, if any, the storm or its remnants will have on Atlantic Canada by the end of the week.
Stay with The Weather Network throughout hurricane season for the latest updates.