BY MARCY SHORTUSE – Elsa couldn’t make up her mind what she wanted to be when she grew up, and went back and forth from a tropical storm to a hurricane, and back to a tropical storm in a matter of a few days.
On June 24 the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration spotted a squall, originally called Disturbance 1, off the coast of Africa and gave it a 40 percent chance of formation. By June 29 we had two systems in the Atlantic, which is relatively rare for so early in the season. While the first fell apart, the second disturbance turned into Tropical Storm Elsa on July 1, and it became apparent that, while lopsided and ragged, the storm was going to stay around to become a problem for Cuba, and possibly for us.
By July 2 Elsa did what most meteorologists didn’t think she would do – she became a hurricane, just prior to hitting Barbados, St. Vincent, and the Grenadines. Most American storm models had her going up into the Gulf close to Florida, but it was still far too early to tell.
On July 3 the consensus that the storm would be coming not only to Florida, but that it might make landfall quite close to Gasparilla Island. Fortunately there were telltale signs that wind shear was keeping the storm weak, and it was expected to be a wind and rain storm and not much else.
By July 5 Elsa had been downgraded to a tropical storm, and warnings were put in place for our area. The next day the National Hurricane Center said that Elsa was about 65 miles west-northwest of Key West and about 215 miles south of Tampa, moving toward the north-northwest near 10 mph. That meant that Elsa would pass near the Florida Keys, moving near or over portions of the west coast of Florida the next night.
While the storm was only showing winds of approximately 60 mph, meteorologists expected strengthening to occur as it moved along the coast headed north.
By 11 a.m. on July 6 the island started to experience the first rain from the storm, as well as some minor wind. There were only a few good gusts or downpours prior to about 5:30 p.m., when the winds seemed to pick up to a good pace. The local kids made the most of it and did a little surfing (which is not recommended for anyone who is not familiar with our waters).
Most of the heaviest winds and rain took place in the late evening hours. Elsa was parallel to us out in the Gulf sometime between 8 and 10 p.m., and heavy rain and our first thunderstorm happened at about 10 p.m. In some areas it rained for hours, leaving some island roads temporarily flooded. Power outages were spotty.
Early Wednesday morning brought more spotty rain, but blue skies were showing through. Damage on the island was reported as minimal, primarily minor damage to landscaping. Unfortunately there was evidence along the beach that at some point the tide made it up to the sea wall, and it appears there was some damage to sea turtle nests.
This was good practice for the rest of the 2021 hurricane season. Make sure your emergency supplies are in order prior to the arrival of another storm, including medications for you (and your pets, if applicable. Keep your yard free of any objects that could become projectiles, keep non-perishable food and bottled water on hand, make sure you have a battery-operated light source and radio and follow the local weather, the Gasparilla Island Conservation and Improvement Alert System (email email@example.com to subscribe) or the Boca Beacon Facebook page.