TALLAHASSEE — Warnings and watches expanded Monday to include parts of the Florida Panhandle as Tropical Storm Elsa prepared to pummel the state with wind, rain and storm surge.
President Joe Biden issued a federal emergency declaration in Charlotte, Citrus, Collier, DeSoto, Hardee, Hernando, Hillsborough, Lee, Levy, Manatee, Miami-Dade, Monroe, Pasco, Pinellas and Sarasota counties, the White House announced late Sunday.
That came a day after Gov. Ron DeSantis issued a state of emergency in the same counties. DeSantis revised his order Monday to add Alachua, Columbia, Dixie, Franklin, Hamilton, Gilchrist, Jefferson, Lake, Lafayette, Madison, Marion, Sumter, Suwannee, Taylor and Wakulla counties. He also removed DeSoto, Hardee and Miami-Dade counties from his earlier order.
But the National Hurricane Center on Monday expanded a tropical-storm watch as far west as Indian Pass in the Panhandle’s Gulf County and a storm-surge watch as far west as the Ochlockonee River in the area of Franklin and Wakulla counties.
The National Hurricane Center said Monday afternoon that Tropical Storm Elsa had weakened somewhat, with maximum sustained winds of 60 mph. It was expected to continue moving across central and western Cuba on Monday before passing near the Florida Keys early Tuesday and heading up the state’s West Coast.
“Tropical storm conditions are possible in the upper Florida Keys by tonight (Monday night),” a 2 p.m. advisory from the hurricane center said. Tropical storm conditions are possible in the Florida Big Bend area beginning Tuesday night.”
The advisory also said sea swells “will increase near the Florida Keys and South Florida later today (Monday) and spread northward along the West Coast of Florida tonight through Tuesday night.”
A tropical-storm warning was in effect from Craig Key, which is in the Middle Keys, west to the Dry Tortugas. It also was in effect on the state’s West Coast from Flamingo in Monroe County to the Suwannee River, a vast swath of coastal territory that includes population centers such as the Tampa Bay area. Earlier Monday, the warning had gone from Flamingo to Englewood at the border of Charlotte and Sarasota counties.
A tropical-storm watch was in effect on the West Coast from the Suwannee River to Indian Pass. Earlier in the day, the watch had ended at the Aucilla River at the eastern border of Jefferson County. The tropical-storm watch also was in effect for the eastern Florida Keys and Florida Bay.
While inexact, a “cone” of potential paths for the storm showed it could make landfall early Wednesday in North Florida before going into Georgia.
Florida Power & Light, Duke Energy Florida and Tampa Electric — which all have customers in the potential path of the storm — said during the weekend that they had made preparations to restore electricity if needed.
“While the ultimate track and intensity of Elsa remains uncertain, we are closely monitoring the storm and are ready to respond,” Eric Silagy, president and CEO of FPL, said in a prepared statement Sunday. “This is the first storm of the season to directly affect the southern peninsula. Storms are nature’s way of clearing debris and it’s likely that flying debris and falling trees will cause outages and restoration challenges. Following severe weather, our crews must cut away trees and other vegetation that have fallen or blown into power lines to find and fix damage safely and as quickly as possible.”
The looming storm also led Sunday to crews demolishing the remaining portion of a collapsed condominium building in Surfside. The demolition came amid concerns that the instability of the remaining portion of the building posed a threat to search-and-rescue workers continuing to comb through the rubble.