Elsa strengthened into the first hurricane of the Atlantic season on Friday as it battered the eastern Caribbean and it appeared headed eventually for Florida or the U.S. Gulf Coast.
Heavy rains and winds lashed Barbados as the Category 1 storm headed for islands including St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
A hurricane warning was in effect for Barbados, St. Lucia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
The long-term track showed the storm rolling toward the Dominican Republic and Haiti as a hurricane before weakening back to tropical storm force and potentially heading in the direction of Florida by early Tuesday.
A tropical storm warning was in effect for Martinique, the southern coast of Dominican Republic from Cabo Engano to the border with Haiti and the entire coast of Haiti. A tropical storm watch was in effect for Grenada, Saba, Sint Eustatius, Dominica and Jamaica, while a hurricane watch was in effect for Haiti’s southern region from the capital, Port-au-Prince, to the southern border with the Dominican Republic.
Elsa is the earliest fifth-named storm on record, beating out last year’s Eduardo which formed on July 6, according to Colorado State University hurricane researcher Phil Klotzbach.
Elsa was expected to pass near the southern coast of Hispaniola, which is shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic, on Saturday. The storm was then expected to move near Jamaica and portions of eastern Cuba on Sunday.
The storm was forecast to produce rainfall totals of 3 to 6 inches (7 to 15 centimeters) with maximum totals of 10 inches (25 centimeters) inches on Friday across the Windward and southern Leeward Islands, including Barbados. The rain could unleash isolated flash flooding and mudslides.
The National Hurricane Center forecast cone shows Elsa potentially impacting Florida as a tropical storm next week.