Elsa strengthens into Category 1 hurricane as it nears Florida

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The National Weather Service has issued a Tropical Storm Watch for North Carolina’s coastal waters until further notice, as Tropical Storm Elsa nears Florida.

Swells of 5 to 8 feet are possible, along with tropical storm force winds.

Tropical Storm Watch issued for NC coastal waters

Elsa gained enough strength over the open water of the Gulf of Mexico to become a Category 1 Hurricane, according to the 8 p.m. update from the National Hurricane Center.

The latest update showed the storm had maximum sustained winds of 75 mph.

Elsa was moving north at 10 mph on a track that would take it over Jacksonville, Fla. Tropical storm watches and warnings and some tornado warnings were issued along Florida’s west coast. Tropical storm watches are issued for the coast of South Carolina.

The latest update from NHC said tropical storm conditions were occurring over parts of the Florida Keys Tuesday afternoon, and would spread north along the west coast of Florida trough Wednesday morning.

Elsa will pick up pace and weaken as it moves further onto land across the southeast corner of Georgia and through South Carolina and North Carolina.

By Thursday morning, rain from Elsa arrives in the southern counties of central North Carolina, including Scotland and Richmond. The storm track brings it across North Carolina just southeast of Raleigh as a tropical depression before an eastward turn takes it back out over the Atlantic Ocean.

The forecast cone shows the storm could cross North Carolina anywhere from the Triad to the coast.

Heavy rain will be widespread across central and eastern North Carolina through the late afternoon, with the chance for lighter showers continuing until about 8 p.m.

A Level 1 threat for severe weather is in place for the coastal plain for Thursday. Parts of North Carolina could see up to three to four inches of rain.

“We could have some wind gusts up to 35 miles per hour and perhaps some isolated tornadoes as well,” said WRAL meteorologist Aimee Wilmoth.

The storm also presents a significant flooding risk, largely east of the Triangle. Most of eastern North Carolina is under a medium risk for flooding.

Elsa presents flooding risk for Carolinas

“The track of Elsa is farther west now, with the center of the tropical depression moving over us on Thursday,” said WRAL meteorologist Mike Maze. “On this track we have a greater risk for isolated tornadoes and rainfall.”

NC readies for weather emergency

Gov. Roy Cooper activated the state Emergency Operations Center. Although emergency officials aren’t expecting real serious impacts from Elsa, but it’s a good opportunity to get prepared for what could be a long hurricane season.

This is very early in the hurricane season. It doesn’t peak until about September for North Carolina, so we are already telling people, be prepared now,” said Barry Porter with the Red Cross of Eastern North Carolina.

Every home should have a handy, watertight storm kit, including batteries, cash, a first aid kit, medications and a flashlight and emergency radio.

Families should also have a plan to meet up should people be separated in storm conditions.

“Know where you’re going to go, know where would I evacuate to, how would I make sure that my family members know where I’m going,” he said.

Keith Acree, spokesman for the North Carolina Department of Public Safety says they’re in contact with local emergency managers, but at this point, they don’t think they’ll need to open any shelters.

“We always want to be ready for the unexpected. Things do happen. You know, it’s not unusual to have tornadoes out of a storm like this, so that’s always a possibility in the back of our mind,” he said.