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Tropical Storm Elsa enters Georgia as it eyes East Coast with heavy rain, wind

Stormy conditions are expected from southeast Georgia to eastern New England, with high water along the coast

Heavy rains deluged the Florida Keys and southwest portions of the state as Hurricane Elsa headed toward Florida on July 6. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Thomas Simonetti/The Washington Post)

Elsa swept ashore along the Gulf Coast of northern Florida late Wednesday morning, buffeting the area with tropical storm conditions. Next, it is set to ride much of the Eastern Seaboard; tropical storm watches are in effect as far north as the Chesapeake Bay, Delmarva Peninsula and southern New England.

Heavy rains, which could lead to flooding, strong winds and a few tornadoes, are possible from the Southeast to the Mid-Atlantic through Thursday night, with the nation’s third landfalling tropical storm of the season in no hurry to make a courteous exit. By Friday, the storm’s wind and rain are expected to lash the Northeast.

Photos: Tropical Storm Elsa lashes Florida's west coast

The National Hurricane Center declared the storm made landfall Wednesday morning in Taylor County along the northern Florida Gulf Coast. It had peak winds of 65 mph.

The system’s tropical storm status marked a decline from its earlier stint as a marginal Category 1 hurricane on Tuesday night as it paralleled the west coast of Florida, but strong winds and flooding remain possible with the storm regardless. The storm unloaded over 10 inches of rain along the west coast of Florida and wind gusts up to 70 mph in the Florida Keys.

As Elsa heads north, the Hurricane Center is warning that “considerable flash and urban flooding [are] possible across coastal Georgia and the Lowcountry of South Carolina.”

Alerts in effect

Tropical storm warnings have been discontinued in Florida but extend north along the Georgia and South Carolina coastline, and include Charleston and Savannah.

A tropical storm watch stretches along the coastline of North Carolina through the Virginia Tidewater, up the Chesapeake Bay, and all along the Delmarva into Southern New England.

Elsa now

At 5 p.m. Eastern time, Elsa was centered 115 west-southwest of Brunswick, Ga. Maximum winds had dropped from 65 to 45 mph as the storm drifted north at 14 mph.

Radar showed heavy rain from Jacksonville north to Savannah. On Wednesday night, the rain will surge into South Carolina entering North Carolina by Thursday morning, by which time Elsa is expected to have weakened into a tropical depression.

Forecast for Georgia, the Carolinas and Mid-Atlantic

Elsa will steam through southeastern Georgia by Wednesday evening and come up Interstate 95 in the Carolinas through Thursday afternoon from south to north.

A widespread 2 to 4 inches of rain with isolated 6-inch totals are possible from southeastern Georgia into the low country of South Carolina, along with wind gusts over 40 mph in surviving squalls. The heaviest will fall closest to Elsa’s actual path. A 1- to 2-foot storm surge is also possible near the coast, which could lead to minor flooding, along with a few isolated tornadoes. The National Weather Service issued a tornado watch for much of southeast Georgia through 11 p.m. Wednesday.

Rainfall may decrease slightly as the storm pushes through central North Carolina, with totals of 1 to 3 inches projected.

Similar conditions will occur in southeastern Virginia and the Tidewater on Thursday, particularly during the evening. Elsa’s projected path also means the Delmarva Peninsula would likely wind up with 1 to 3 inches of rain Thursday night into early Friday, along with strong winds and coastal rip currents. Some computer models even bring Elsa’s remnants to the nation’s capital, which could lead to an inch or so of rainfall if the core of the rain expands that far west.

Tropical Storm Elsa is tracking toward the Mid-Atlantic: What it means for the D.C. area.

Conditions should improve in the Mid-Atlantic during the day Friday.

Forecast for Northeast

On Friday morning, the center of Elsa should be just off Long Island, with wind-swept rain from the coast of New Jersey into southern New England. Depending on the track, the I-95 corridor from New York to Boston could see 1 to 3 inches or rain, but lesser amounts if the storm’s path is a bit farther east. Isolated flooding is possible. Wind gusts could top 40 or even 50 mph along the coast.

By Friday afternoon, Elsa may be buffeting eastern New England, bringing a dose of wind, rain and perhaps minor surge to Buzzards and Narragansett bays. Elsa will then probably visit Nova Scotia this weekend as a post-tropical storm.

Impacts in Florida

As Elsa came ashore Wednesday morning, the storm pushed ocean water into the coast, raising water levels. In Tampa Bay, a 2.3-foot surge was reported shortly before 8 a.m., with 1.6 feet of surge at nearby Port Manatee and at Clearwater Beach. Just over a foot of surge was observed at Cedar Key.

Elsa dropped considerable rainfall in the Florida Keys Tuesday including 4.5 inches at the airport in Key West and 3.5 inches farther east on Little Torch Key. Along the west coast of Florida Tuesday into Wednesday, more than a half-foot came down in Cape Coral, just north of Fort Myers, while 10.08 inches was recorded in North Port, southeast of Sarasota. Port Charlotte, Fla., posted 10.88 inches.

Reports of high winds were more spotty, but Key West clocked a gust of 70 mph on Tuesday while Sand Key near Clearwater, Fla., posted a 64 mph gust.

The Atlantic hurricane season

The latest: The 2022 season started out slow, but has rapidly intensified this fall with conditions prime for storms. Fiona brought severe flooding to Puerto Rico before making landfall in Canada, and now we’re tracking Hurricane Ian as it heads for Florida. For the seventh year in a row, hurricane officials expect an above-average season of hurricane activity.

Tips for preparing: We rounded up seven safety tips to help you get ready for hurricanes. Here’s some other guidance about keeping your phone charged and useful in dangerous weather, and what to know about flood insurance.

Understanding climate change: It’s not just you — hurricanes and tropical storms have hit the U.S. more frequently in recent years. And last summer alone, nearly 1 in 3 Americans experienced a weather disaster. Read more about how climate change is fueling severe weather events.