Tropical Storm Elsa gains strength, may become a hurricane

Tropical Storm Elsa is strengthening and could become a behurricane fore making landfall along Florida’s northern Gulf coast, the Miami-based US National Hurricane Center warned on Tuesday. In addition to damaging winds and heavy rains, Elsa could bring life-threatening storm surges, flooding and isolated tornadoes. A hurricane warning has been issued for a long stretch of coastline.

Satellite imagery showed the storm appearing a bit ragged after emerging off the northwestern coast of Cuba on Monday night, several days after it became a Category 1 hurricane in the eastern Caribbean. Still, meteorologists cautioned that Elsa was a dangerous storm. The storm was centered about 65 miles southwest of Tampa, as of 11 p.m. EDT Tuesday, driving sustained winds of 75 mph, the National Hurricane Center said in an advisory. The storm moved north at 14 mph, much slower than its record-setting pace of more than 30 mph last week. Tropical-storm-force winds extended outward up to 80 miles from its center, while hurricane force winds extend outward up to 25 miles. The hurricane warning was in effect from Egmont Key to the Steinhatchee River. More than 4 million people were under warnings along Florida’s west coast.

Fifteen people were rescued off the coast of Key West, the U.S. Coast Guard said on Twitter. Nine people were still missing as of Tuesday night. Strong wind gusts and heavy rains swept across parts of southern Florida on Tuesday morning. “Life-threatening” storm surge, flooding and isolated tornadoes were possible, the advisory warned. Much of the southern portion of Florida was under a tornado watch.