01 July 2021

Tropical Storm Elsa already breaking records

Tropical Depression 5 formed on Wednesday night, then was upgraded to Tropical Storm Elsa on Thursday morning.  This is the fifth named storm of the season, and is the record-earliest fifth named storm, beating 2020's Edouard by five days.

But more alarming than the record pace of named storms is the fact that this formed from an African easterly wave, on July 1, east of 50°W.  A tropical storm has only formed so early in the year and so far east once before, in 1933.  If you're not aware, 1933 was among the most active seasons on record, so hopefully Elsa is not a harbinger.  A similar storm in timing, location, and (so far) track, is 2005's Hurricane Dennis.  Hopefully it doesn't mimic Dennis' intensity.  Of course, 2005 isn't a season we want to compete with either.

Elsa is moving very briskly to the west-northwest at 29 mph, and will cross the Lesser Antilles on Friday morning, very likely as a tropical storm.  Due largely to its rapid motion, it's not expected to strengthen much in the eastern Caribbean before reaching Cuba on Sunday morning. There is a long radar loop from the Lesser Antilles available at http://bmcnoldy.rsmas.miami.edu/tropics/radar/

As always, it's a challenge to anticipate what the interaction with large islands will do to the storm.  Coincidentally, Elsa replaced Erika on the name list after Erika's retirement in 2015.  Erika crossed the Leeward Islands, and was forecast to cross Hispaniola, re-intensify, and hit south Florida head-on. It ended up dissipating completely on the south coast of Hispaniola.  

With the exception of the European model and its ensemble which takes Elsa east of the Florida peninsula, the rest of the global and regional models take it either into Florida or west of it and up into the Gulf of Mexico on Tuesday-Wednesday.  

As of now, a potential encounter with south Florida would be centered around Tuesday morning, with impacts beginning midday Monday.  The regional hurricane models are trending stronger, with the HWRF model now indicating a Category 3 hurricane reaching Cuba on Monday night.  HMON is similar, but peaking at Category 2 intensity, followed by the Navy's COAMPS model which takes a similar track but peaks at Category 1 intensity.  Regardless of the details four days out, there is room for this to strengthen quite a bit.  However, NHC has thus far been reluctant to buy into those solutions, and is opting to keep it a relatively weak tropical storm due to its rapid motion.

Elsewhere across the basin, there is a shocking amount of activity east of Elsa... a scene that looks more like September 1 than July 1.  None of those easterly waves are presently favored by the model guidance for development, but it is still something we don't normally see so early in the season.

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