Elsa has strengthened and now has maximum sustained winds of 70mph.
Forecasters expect the storm to move near or over portions of Florida’s west coast on Tuesday evening into Wednesday morning.
Elsa is then expected to make landfall on the north Florida Gulf Coast on Wednesday, before moving across the state and then the southeastern US on Thursday.
In its 2pm advisory on Tuesday, the US National Hurricane Centre said: “Although the environment is not conducive for significant strengthening before landfall, only a slight increase in intensity would result in Elsa becoming a hurricane tonight or early Wednesday.”
“I expect this to strengthen into a hurricane before making landfall anywhere from about Anna Maria Island, north to Cedar Key,” says WFTV 9 meteorologist Brian Shields.
In addition to damaging winds and heavy rains, the NHC warned of life-threatening storm surges, flooding, and isolated tornadoes.
A hurricane warning has been issued for a long stretch of coastline, from Egmont Key at the mouth of Tampa Bay to the Steinhatchee River in Florida’s Big Bend area. A tornado watch is also in effect for all of south Florida for this evening.
Much of the Tampa Bay region, home to 3.5 million people, is closing early on Tuesday in advance of the storm, with the international airport planning to shut at 5pm.
Elsa made landfall in Cuba on Monday forcing the evacuation of 180,000 residents. The storm had strengthened into a category one hurricane on Friday but weakened. It was predicted that it would strengthen again as it passed over the Gulf of Mexico.
At least two people died when the storm struck the Dominican Republic, and at least one person was killed as it hit the island of St Lucia.
On Saturday, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis issued a state of emergency for 15 counties, including Miami-Dade where emergency crews performed a controlled demolition of the partially collapsed Champlain Towers South condo building in Surfside ahead of the storm’s approach. The search for survivors of the tragedy continues.
President Joe Biden has also declared an emergency in Florida and directed federal assistance to supplement the state, tribal and local response.