With Tropical Storm Elsa expected to impact Florida, The Weather Authority wants to be your resource. That’s why meteorologist Mark Collins is answering your frequently asked questions. Below you’ll find those answers, along with a form to submit your questions.
(Note: Questions and responses have been edited for clarity)
Question: How much wind and rain will we see in Pinellas County and when?
Answer: Pinellas County will have winds gusting 50-60 miles per hour with 3-6 inches of rain. Storm surge at the beaches will be 1-3 feet, but 2-3 feet in Tampa Bay as water gets trapped from the southwest winds. People in Tampa will see water rising 2-3 feet high and spilling into the sidewalks on Bayshore Boulevard in the morning and early afternoon Wednesday with extra drainage problems from the rain. The storm will technically not hit St. Petersburg but pass offshore around midnight. Rain will precede passage.
Question: I’m in Waycross, but I live at the beaches and I’m planning on leaving tomorrow. Should I stay or should I go?
Answer: There is no need for evacuations anywhere in North Florida. If you live in Waycross or the Beaches, stay put. Remember, this is not a hurricane – just a windy and wet tropical storm that will pass quickly.
Question: I see Valdosta is going to be getting winds and rain. What about the tornado outlook?
Answer: Tornado outlook is low with only a slight chance for tornadoes along the right side of Tropical Storm Elsa’s track. Valdosta would have very low odds of seeing tornadoes.
Question: I live in St. Johns County in a mobile home surrounded by lots of trees. What should I expect?
Answer: Those of you in mobile homes near trees should consider staying in a safer location. You may want to evacuate after sunrise Wednesday with the windiest conditions building through noon.
Question: What will be the strongest wind on West Beaver Street?
Answer: Winds around Beaver Street will be under 40 miles per hour, even with the strongest gusts.
Question: Will the bridges be closed?
Answer: Bridges will remain open. They only tend to be closed when we have sustained winds at 40-mph or higher. We’ll see sustained winds at 20-30 mph, well below that threshold.
Question: I’m on the Duval-St. Johns county line. I’m scheduled to have back surgery Wednesday in St. Augustine. Will this affect me?
Answer: Back surgery should be safe, so long as you use caution when driving Wednesday morning after 7 a.m. when the rain could cause streets to flood.
Question: Will it be safe to travel from North Georgia to Jacksonville by Thursday?
Answer: On Thursday, things will be back to normal with only afternoon storms expected.
Question: What impacts will we see in Valdosta, Georgia?
Answer: Get ready for some heavy rain in Valdosta. Valdosta could get around 1-2 inches, based on the current track. Any shift farther west would open up the wet side of the storm with as much as 3 inches of rain.
Question: Will government/city buildings/bridges be closed due to the impact of the storm?
Answer: This is not the type of storm to close down. Governments and public facilities would close if a tropical storm warning were to be issued for our area. This is unlikely. In fact, sustained winds of 40-mph are not in the forecast, so this threshold would allow bridges to stay open.
Question: Will Valdosta get any tornadoes?
Answer: Twisters are more prevalent on the right side of the storm path, especially farther from the eye or circulation center in tropical cyclones. Often the feeder bands around 100 miles from the eye hold more tornadoes due to the favorable upper level shear needed to create vorticity.
A study decades ago, I believe out of FSU, showed Gulf land-falling hurricanes produce more tornadoes than ones that come from the Atlantic. I would only expect isolated tornadoes east of Valdosta, more toward Brunswick if they develop. Also, waterspouts near Cedar Key need to be watched.
Question: Would be farther away from the Valdosta area be better? Maybe west or north of Valdosta?
Answer: West is best.
Question: I live in Putnam County. What can I expect from the storm?
Answer: Putnam County is next to Marion, which is under a tropical storm watch. Watches indicate tropical storm conditions are expected within 48 hours. Conditions will likely stay below storm force in Putnam. Winds would be highest on Wednesday at roughly 20-30 miles per hour. Passing showers could drop two inches of rain. Flooding is possible due to the saturated soils. Rain ends Wednesday evening, quicker than most of us around Jacksonville.
Question: Can we expect major damage from downed trees?
Answer: These winds tend to weed out the dying and/or weak tree limbs. The heaviest rain bands will bring some down. But since the winds will not be persistent and confined to brief gusts, trees will be left standing. Here is everything I know about the most (hurricane-resistant) trees.
Question: What role do the National Weather Service and FEMA have when an evacuation order occurs?
Answer: The (local) emergency managers consult with the National Weather Service forecasters and are experience with flood zones. They use their judgment and consult with local leaders, such as the mayor, on evacuations. It’s a very deliberate and thoughtful process since it costs about $500,000 for every mile evacuated due to lost business and city expenses.
As for FEMA, when it comes to severe weather, this federal agency generally helps storm-ravaged areas and communities recover from damage to homes, businesses etc.
Question: I got 3 inches of rain yesterday (Sunday). I don’t expect to get that much from Elsa. What do you think?
Answer: You are spot on. I am seeing the system weakening before reaching us in North Florida. The amount of rain this week is akin to a significant tropical depression or storm. A week of anticipating the storm for a couple hours of rain. The fact that this will be moved at a snappy pace should keep the rain totals below 2-3 inches for most areas east of U.S. 301. Closer to the Gulf, 4 inches is realistic.