Hurricane Season

Will Tropical Storm Elsa Threaten Sarasota?

The tropical storm is on a forecast path toward Florida.

By Susan Burns July 1, 2021

Image: NOAA

The National Hurricane Center started tracking Tropical Storm Elsa yesterday—and so did Sarasota’s Bob Bunting, an atmospheric scientist and CEO of Sarasota’s Climate Adaption Center.

On Thursday late morning, Elsa, with winds of 45 mph, was west of the Winward and Leeward islands, about 2,000 miles from Cuba. The storm is moving at a very fast 24 mph.

“As it approaches Cuba, it’s going to slow down,” Bunting says. “The key thing for us is how long it will stay south of Cuba in that really warm pocket of water and then curve to the north.”

Bunting says a five-day forecast can usually predict within 150 miles of where a storm will hit. “That level of accuracy is pretty amazing,” he says. That means it’s still too early to know if the west coast of Florida is going to have a direct impact. It’s also too early to know if it will become a hurricane.

“The intensity of these storms is what we don’t predict as well as the path,” he says. “The storm goes over a bubble of warm water and it can spin up in a hurry, as we’ve seen in the last few years with the explosive development of hurricanes in 24 hours.”

For now, Bunting says, “Our maximum threat time looks like it could be next Tuesday.”

Already 2021 is shaping up to reach CAC’s forecast of 20 storms. Elsa is the fifth storm of the 2021 season, which is the first time the U.S. has had five storms before July 6. “The month of July is when the waters are warm enough to support a major hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico,” he says. “I’m giving an early warning so people can watch this over the holiday weekend.”

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