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Elsa drenching New England after deluging Mid-Atlantic

Flooding rains and tornadoes accompanied Elsa’s trip up the East Coast

Satellite loop of Tropical Storm Elsa Friday morning. (NOAA)
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It’s the final day of Elsa’s unwelcome tour up the U.S. East Coast, a journey thus far filled with heavy rain, flooding, strong winds and tornadoes. After lashing New England and the Northeast on Friday, Elsa is finally set to pull away from the Lower 48, sweeping into the Gulf of Maine before bringing inclement conditions to Canada.

Flash flood watches remain in effect from Massachusetts to the Canadian border. A tropical storm warning is also up for eastern New England, although the National Hurricane Center changed Elsa’s designation from a tropical storm to “post-tropical cyclone” Thursday afternoon after it took on the characteristics of a higher latitude weather system.

The Hurricane Center warns that “considerable urban flooding” is possible in across southern and coastal New England until the storm exits Friday evening.

New Yorkers wade through waist-deep floods to reach their trains as storms pummel the city

Tracking Elsa now

As of 2 p.m., Elsa was centered near Plymouth, Mass. Maximum winds were pegged at 50 mph as the system booked northeast at 31 mph. A comma-shaped swirl of moderate to heavy rainfall traced its spiral circulation, the back edge of the tropical fire hose having passed Providence and advancing toward Boston.

To the northeast, the rain was coming down in buckets, mainly from Manchester, N.H., to Portland, which were under flash flood warnings.

What to expect in New England

Heavy rain will ramp up by 3 p.m. in eastern Maine while winding down for Boston and points south. Around sunset, the only lingering rain should be over Downeast Maine, with dramatic improvement to the south and east.

Additional rainfall of 1 to 3 inches is possible in eastern New England and eastern Maine.

An additional batch of scattered thunderstorms may develop from the Mid-Atlantic into western Massachusetts and shift east, congealing into a mass of downpours that will roll through southern New England. Another inch or more of rainfall is possible, potentially triggering renewed flood concerns. Thereafter, Elsa will breeze into Nova Scotia and undergo extratropical transition.

Looking ahead, there are no immediate tropical threats brewing in the Atlantic, although signs point to an uptick in activity as August nears. It’s already been a record active start to the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season, with Elsa becoming the earliest fifth-named storm on record. According to hurricane researcher Philip Klotzbach, Elsa has been a named storm for eight days, its longevity tying for second place of all Atlantic storms observed during the month of July.

Elsa’s impacts from the Northeast to the Florida Keys

From Boston to Key West, Elsa has unleashed torrents.

In New England, rainfall amounts of 2 to 4 inches were common, with locally higher amounts.

On Friday morning, there were numerous reports of inundated roads in Connecticut where up to 5 to 6 inches of rain had fallen. Flash flood warnings spanned from Long Island to Boston before the rain exited.

Water spilled down the staircase of the 149th St./Grand Concourse subway station in the Bronx as heavy rain caused flash flooding in New York on July 8. (Video: Storyful)

New York City saw a double dose of deluges. Thursday was punctuated by excessive rainfall that ground the evening commute to a halt. Severe thunderstorms blossomed in advance of Elsa along a stalled front, feeding off the tropical moisture trucked north ahead of it. Hail the size of tennis balls fell in Bergen County, N.J., where 4.92 inches of rain was also measured.

This initial round of rain and storms on Thursday dropped 2.27 inches of rainfall in the Big Apple. More than an inch and a half fell in just an hour, among the top 10 most intense hourly cloud bursts in the past 80 years. By midevening, underpasses and highways were flooding as water gushed into the subway system. This batch of rain was mostly due to a stalled front in the area, but moisture from Elsa probably intensified the downpours.

Another inch and a half of rain fell Friday morning as Elsa’s main shield of rain pivoted through, prompting the issuance of flood advisories.

Farther south, mostly 1 to 3 inches fell in New Jersey Thursday night into Friday morning; about 1 to 5 inches in Southern Maryland, the Delmarva and the zone between Virginia Beach and Richmond Thursday and Thursday night; and about 2 to 5 inches around Raleigh, N.C. during the day Thursday.

Strong wind gusts at the coast also contributed to a 2.1-foot storm surge in Atlantic City, although impacts were minimal. Wind gusts in coastal New Jersey topped 70 mph in at least two locations.

Tornadoes induced by Elsa’s circulation were reported in eastern North Carolina and southeastern Virginia, including around Suffolk, though more will be confirmed farther north in coming days.

Doppler radar detected debris in the atmosphere from tornadic cells over the Delmarva Peninsula; at least five tornado warnings were in effect simultaneously late Thursday night, a scenario reminiscent of the tornado outbreak brought by Tropical Storm Isaias last August. In southern New Jersey, the Weather Service was investigating whether any twisters touched down after radar detected the possibility of several.

Tornado warnings were also issued in Southern Maryland among at least 72 issued by the Weather Service as the storm came up the East Coast.

Between Tuesday and Thursday, Elsa swept from the Florida Keys through the Southeast. The storm made landfall in the Big Bend of Florida in Taylor County around 11 a.m. Wednesday, packing 65 mph winds and a storm surge of several feet. Along its journey, it has also unloaded more than 10 inches of rain and produced wind gusts topping 70 mph in a few locations.

Here are some of the rainfall totals:

Wind gusts reached at least 70 mph in the Florida Keys and the west coast of Florida as well as in coastal Georgia and South Carolina.

The storm spawned a damaging tornado in Jacksonville, Fla., on Wednesday, while an EF2 twister struck Camden County, Ga., that injured 10 people at the Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base, according to the Associated Press. One person died in Jacksonville when strong winds toppled a tree onto a vehicle, the AP reported.

Jason Samenow contributed to this report.

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