The US National Hurricane Center (NHC) confirmed the system went ashore in Taylor County, along the North Florida Gulf Coast just past 11am on Wednesday with winds near 65 mph (100kph).
Videos shared on social media revealed the heavy rain and winds brought by the storm after it touched down with severe rainfall remaining a “threat” as the storm moves inland over Florida, the NHC said.
“Elsa is moving toward the north near 14 mph (22 kph) and a generally northward motion is expected to continue through this afternoon,” the agency explained in an advisory.
They added: “The storm should then move across the southeastern and mid-Atlantic United States through Thursday.” Forecasters warn Elsa could bring “considerable” flash flooding to the west and north. Tornadoes could also be seen across the northern part of the state.
Following Elsa’s arrival, the US Coast Guard was forced to launch a rescue mission after a ship capsized near the Florida Keys as a result of the storm. The guard has so far rescued 13 of 22 people who were tossed into the ocean. Nine people remained missing.
The touchdown comes after a dramatic satellite video showed the storm barrelling towards the state on Tuesday evening, at which point it had briefly restrengthened into a hurricane.
Since then, forecasters said that the hurricane had weakened back to a tropical storm as it headed towards landfall, but hurricane warnings had remained in effect for a long stretch of the state’s coastline.
As the storm touched down, the NHC said that the warning along the west coast of Florida has been changed to a tropical storm warning.
The agency confirmed that maximum sustained winds had been recorded near 65 mph (100kph) with “higher gusts” but noted that they expect the storm to weaken as it moves further inland.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said on Wednesday morning that around 26,000 customers across Florida were experiencing power outages as of 6am. He noted that the impacts of the storm had been “less” than what was initially predicted.
“Clearly this could have been worse from what we were looking at 72 hours ago, but you’re always better to be prepared,” he said.
The storm dumped rain as it hit the Gulf Coast but appears to have spared the state significant damage and widespread power outages that were feared ahead of its landfall.
“This is not a time to joyride because we do have hazardous conditions out there,” Mr DeSantis said on Tuesday in Tallahassee. The governor on Wednesday asked that residents use “common sense” as the weather event unfolds.
Mr DeSantis said at the conference that no fatalities or major structural damage had yet been reported in the state.
The cyclone already tore past the Tampa Bay region with gusty winds and heavy rain, but there were no immediate reports of damage or injuries in the area.
“Never seen anything like this before in my life. Winds starting howling in the middle of the night and rain starting pounding the windows. so I got out to film and document,” Johnathan Riches of Tampa told CNN hours before the storm made landfall.
On Tuesday evening, the Republican governor revealed that he had expanded the state of emergency for the storm to include Baker, Bradford, Clay, Duval, Nassau, Putnam and Union counties.
Schools, government buildings and airports closed as the region braced for the storm. “Elsa will produce wind and rain that can lead to flooding and power outages,” Mr DeSantis said on Twitter.
Officials have cautioned people to observe storm safety measures as it unfolds, particularly with the use of temporary generators amid power outages, which can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning if used in or next to a home, garage, or camper.
Additional reporting by the Associated Press