This is an update on a now Tropical Storm Elsa as it has been downgraded from a Category 1 hurricane strength this Saturday. Elsa is on the way for a dangerous landfall in Cuba, then likely to turn towards the Florida peninsula and expected to become the United States’ 3rd landfalling storm of the Atlantic hurricane season 2021.
When Elsa formed this Thursday, it became the record-breaking earliest 5th named tropical cyclone of the Atlantic Hurricane Season 2021. The storm was then upgraded into the 1st hurricane of the season in the eastern Caribbean, reaching its peak as a Category 1 hurricane. Elsa lost some of its intensity today and now maintains a Tropical storm strength.
Tropical Storm Elsa is currently packing 60 knots (70 mph) of maximum sustained winds, with a minimum central pressure of around 1002 mbar.
Tropical Storm Elsa continues moving west-northwest south of Hispaniola, gradually on its way towards the first landfall in Cuba. It will then be moving across the higher terrain of Cuba, arriving into the southeastern portions of the Gulf of Mexico on Monday.
The latest weather model guidance then suggests that Tropical Storm Elsa will likely re-emerge into a better organized tropical storm while it continues towards the final landfall in the Florida peninsula on Tuesday morning. If Elsa does make landfall in Florida, this would the 3rd United States landfall of the Atlantic Hurricane Season 2021.
Although Elsa is now again a Tropical storm, hurricane warnings remain in effect for portions of the Dominican Republic and Haiti. The conditions have not yet reached their worst there and the possibility that a short-lived re-intensification might occur due to a convective burst within Elsa’s storms.
A Hurricane Warning is in effect for:
- The Cuban provinces of Cienfuegos and Matanzas
A Tropical Storm Warning is in effect for:
- The Cuban provinces of Camaguey, Ciego de Avila, Sancti Spiritus, Villa Clara, Mayabeque, and Havana
- The Florida Keys from Craig Key westward to the Dry Tortugas
A Storm Surge Watch is in effect for:
- West coast of Florida from Bonita Beach to the Suwannee River
A Tropical Storm Watch is in effect for:
- Cayman Brac and Little Cayman
- The Cuban province of Artemisa
- The Florida Keys from east of Craig Key to Ocean Reef
- Florida Bay
- West coast of Florida from Flamingo northward to the Anclote River
Remember: A Hurricane Warning means that hurricane conditions are expected somewhere within the warning area, in this case within the next 12 hours. The hurricane conditions are expected to begin shortly after the first occurrence of tropical-storm-force winds, conditions that make outside preparations difficult or dangerous.
Preparations to protect life and property should be rushed to completion. A Tropical Storm Warning means that tropical storm conditions are expected somewhere within the warning area.
The first hurricane in a typical Atlantic hurricane season forms around August 14th, so Elsa reaching a hurricane strength was almost a month a half earlier than normal.
RECORD-BREAKING ATLANTIC HURRICANE SEASON 2021 SO FAR
Similar to last year, the Atlantic hurricane season 2021 begins setting early records for the history books. The ongoing Tropical Storm Elsa became the first hurricane of the season and also the farthest east that a hurricane has formed this early in the calendar year in the tropical Atlantic (that means south of latitude 23.5° N) since 1933.
Above: Tropical Cyclone names for the hurricane season 2021
Tropical Storm Ana
The first tropical cyclone of the hurricane season 2021 was Tropical Storm Ana. It formed on May 22nd, about 10 days before the official start. The peak intensity of Ana was 45 mph and it also generated an ACE of 1.01. Its minimum central pressure was 1006 mbar.
Tropical Storm Bill
The second named system was a Tropical Storm Bill, which formed several hundred miles east off the coast of North Carolina and was active from June 14 to 16th. Bill never had any land areas interact as it remained over the open waters of the Northwest Atlantic, Its peak intensity was 60 mph with the minimum central pressure of 998 mbar.
Tropical Storm Claudette
The Tropical storm Claudette formed along the Mexico coast in the southwestern Gulf of Mexico on June 19th, turned northeast and made the very first landfall of 2021 along the U.S. mainland about 36 hours later.
Claudette had a peak intensity of 45 mph and a minimum central pressure of 1004 mbar while going across the Gulf of Mexico and made landfall in southern Louisiana, After the landfall, the system was downgraded into a depression while moving across the Southeast U.S., ejecting into the Atlantic and dissipate.
Tropical Storm Danny
This Monday’s Tropical Storm Danny was the 4th named storm and just showed that it means seriously with the term “above-normal” hurricane season 2021. Danny lasted less than 24 hours since it got upgraded and made landfall at the southwest South Carolina coast on the same day.
Tropical Storm Danny was also the 2nd tropical cyclone that made landfall on the US mainland this year, after Claudette. And the first June landfall in South Carolina after Hurricane One in 1867, so in more than 150 years.
An average Atlantic hurricane season typically produces up to 14 named tropical storms, 7 hurricanes, and about 3 major hurricanes (Category 3 or greater). The hurricane season has two peaks, one occurs during the early/mid-September and the second one normally occurs in mid-October.
The overall activity begins increasing more significantly in early August. And even the first hurricane typically develops on Aug 14th, while Elsa was a hurricane 45 days earlier than this date.
And also the usual higher activity may begin earlier this year as there are some mid-range trends that would suggest increasingly improved conditions coming together after mid-July.
ELSA BECOMES A TROPICAL STORM AGAIN, HEADS FOR LANDFALL IN CUBA, THEN TOWARDS FLORIDA
Elsa has lost some of its hurricane strength and has officially been downgraded into a Tropical Storm this Saturday. It is now maintaining its strength while moving further west-northwest across the northern Caribbean, south of Hispaniola, and expected to gradually continue towards the landfall in Cuba on Sunday.
Widespread heavy rain will move across southern Hispaniola and Jamaica Saturday night into Sunday where isolated to scattered flash flooding and mudslides will be possible. Heavy rain will impact the Cayman Islands and Cuba Sunday into Monday, resulting in significant flooding and mudslides over Cuba.
There is also an enhanced risk of wind and rainfall impacts in portions of Hispaniola, Cuba, the Turks and Caicos, and the Bahamas through early next week. But the exact potential needs to be monitored further once Elsa strengthens more in the coming days.
As Elsa approaches the Florida Keys and southern Florida early next week, isolated flash flooding and minor river flooding will be possible. There is an increasing risk of tropical storm conditions, storm surge, and rainfall impacts beginning Monday in the Florida Keys and the southern Florida Peninsula.
This risk will spread northward along the Florida Peninsula through Wednesday and reach the coasts of Georgia and the Carolinas Wednesday and Thursday, however, uncertainty in the forecast remains larger than usual due to Elsa’s potential interaction with the islands of Hispaniola and Cuba.
Residents of Cuba and Florida should monitor Elsa’s progress and updates to the forecast. Attached above is the main global model ECMWF potential tracks of Tropical Storm Elsa over the next few days. The general tracks bring Elsa across Cuba into the southeast Gulf of Mexico, then the final landfall the United States mainland, in Florida peninsula.
LATEST ATLANTIC HURRICANE SEASON 2021 FORECAST
The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has designated a list of 21 tropical cyclone names that will be in use during the Atlantic hurricane season 2021. Starting with Ana and finish with Wanda.
So far, five storms – Ana, Bill, Claudette, Danny, and now Elsa have formed. Elsa which formed on July 1st, sets a new record as the earliest 5th named tropical cyclone of the Atlantic hurricane season.
At the beginning of the tropical activity monitoring, the Atlantic tropical cyclone names were used from lists originated by the National Hurricane Center, and are in use since 1953. Nowadays, tropical cyclone names are maintained and updated by an international committee of the WMO.
The tropical cyclone name lists are used in rotation and re-cycled every six years, so the tropical cyclone names list of 2021 will again be in use in 2027.
The recent seasonal forecast for the Hurricane Season 2021 hints at a very active season to continue after a fast start. The NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center (CPC) is forecasting a 60% chance of above-average activity. With the potential for 13-20 named storms, Including 6-10 hurricanes and 3-5 major hurricanes (Category 3 or greater).
And also the other forecasting centers predict that the Atlantic hurricane season 2021 is likely to be yet another very active one. The Colorado State University (CSU) forecast expects 18 named storms this year while the Weather Channel (TWC) is forecasting 19 named storms.
For every tropical storm or a hurricane, we use the Accumulated Cyclone Energy (ACE). A metric that we use to express the energy that was used during the tropical cyclone lifetime.
Recent predictions by the CSU forecasting team hint that the ACE index could end up around 150 during this year’s hurricane season. That is about 22 percent more than a normal season for the 1991-2020 period.
What is the ACE index (Accumulated Cyclone Energy)?
Shortly, the ACE is the abbreviation for Accumulated Cyclone Energy. For the Atlantic Hurricane Season, the NOAA uses four categories to classify storms by the ACE, those are:
- Extremely active – ACE index above 152.5
- Above-average – ACE index above 111
- Near-average – ACE index between 66 and 111
- Below-normal – ACE index below 66
Note: The whole record-breaking hurricane season 2020 brought the ACE ending at 184.5, which is quite well above the threshold for the ‘extremely active‘ category. This also placed the 2020 season among the 10 most active Atlantic hurricane seasons based on the ACE index.
The highest ACE index for the Atlantic hurricane season remains 1933, which had it finished at 258. Then, the hurricane season with the 2nd most named storm formations after last year’s, 2005, also ended up extremely high, the final ACE was 250.
This gives a good example that although the 2020 season has had a record-breaking number of tropical cyclone formations, this does not necessarily reflect a very high final value of the ACE index.
Above: Chart indicates the recent 15 hurricane season ACE final values and the related number of hurricanes in that particular year.
The closest Atlantic hurricane season that fits into an ‘extremely active’ category can be found in 2017. And we might just add another above-normal value of the ACE index at the end of the hurricane season 2021 if the activity continues in a similar way as it started.
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