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

Heavy rain and strong winds Thursday night will probably be focused east of I-95, where tropical storm watches are in effect.

Areas under a tropical storm watch in the Mid-Atlantic region. (National Weather Service)

After Tropical Storm Elsa exits northern Florida on Wednesday, it will sweep up the East Coast through Friday, producing heavy rain and strong wind from southeast Georgia to eastern New England. The Washington and Baltimore region may experience a period of windswept rain Thursday night, but confidence is highest in stormy conditions just to the east, for areas adjacent to the Chesapeake Bay and over the Delmarva Peninsula.

The National Hurricane Center has posted a tropical storm watch from the Virginia Tidewater through Virginia’s Northern Neck and into Southern Maryland, including Calvert and St. Mary’s counties. The watch extends east over the Bay including all but the northern part of the Delmarva Peninsula.

Resort areas such as Virginia Beach, Ocean City, Fenwick, Bethany and Rehoboth are included in the watch zone. The watches also extend north, covering most of the New Jersey Shore, and south through the North Carolina beaches.

These watches could be upgraded to warnings Wednesday night or Thursday morning.

Although the Hurricane Center projects Elsa will weaken to a depression by Thursday morning when it’s over South Carolina, it may regain tropical-storm strength as it nears the Mid-Atlantic coastal waters Thursday night into early Friday.

Tropical Storm Elsa makes landfall in north Florida, as it eyes East Coast with heavy rain, wind

The worst weather in the Mid-Atlantic is anticipated to start Thursday afternoon in southeastern Virginia, before reaching the Northern Neck, Southern Maryland and the southern Delmarva on Thursday evening and passing over the central Delmarva on Thursday night. Rain and wind should quickly exit the region as Elsa tracks east of New Jersey by Friday morning.

In the zone covered by tropical storm watches, the following effects are possible:

  • Sustained winds reaching 40 mph or so with gusts over 50 mph Thursday night. This could lead to downed trees and scattered power failures.
  • Heavy downpours producing one to three inches of rain Thursday night into Friday morning, with up to five inches locally, which could cause areas of flooding. The National Weather Service has declared a “slight risk” of excessive rainfall.
  • Possibly a few tornadoes, especially from the Virginia Tidewater into Southern Maryland on Thursday evening and night.
  • Minor coastal flooding next to the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic coastline as the storm approaches from the south Thursday and Thursday night, raising water levels.
  • Possible rough surf and dangerous rip currents on the Atlantic beaches late Thursday into Friday, possibly lingering into Saturday.

This will be a fast-moving storm, with effects from rain and wind lasting only about six to eight hours in affected areas.

It is uncertain how far west the effects from rain and wind will extend. The Interstate 95 corridor from Washington and Baltimore could see a period of rain and breezy conditions Thursday evening and overnight, perhaps producing one to two inches of rain. Or Elsa may only skirt this area or miss it entirely. Confidence is highest in storm effects near or east of the Chesapeake Bay.

“It remains to be seen how far north and west the outer rainfall bands and gusty winds will make it,” according to the Weather Service office in Sterling, Va.

The American (GFS) model suggests that the heaviest rain will remain east of I-95 while the European model brings a period of moderate to heavy rain to the area. The Canadian model, while least trusted, projects a heavy swath of two to five inches right up I-95. Here are forecast rain totals for Washington from different models:

  • American: None
  • NAM: 0.1 inches
  • UKMet: 0.3 inches
  • European: 1.3 inches
  • Canadian: 4.7 inches

Areas more than about 10 miles west of I-95 have a lower chance of receiving meaningful rain or wind from the storm. But everyone in the greater region from the Interstate 81 corridor eastward should monitor forecasts. The track forecasts of tropical systems sometimes shift.

The Weather Service is advising people in the watch area to prepare for possible effects. “Assess the risk from wind, falling trees, and flooding at your location,” it wrote. “Now is the time to check your emergency plan and emergency supplies kit and take necessary actions to protect your family and secure your home or business.”

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.