Pinellas County Administrator Barry Burton urged residents to make final preparations immediately as “significant weather” from Tropical Storm Elsa is expected to impact the area tonight through Wednesday morning.
National Hurricane Center issued a hurricane watch Tuesday morning for the west coast of from Egmont Key to the Steinhatchee River, which includes coastal citrus, coastal Hernando, coastal Levy, Coastal Pasco and all of Pinellas counties.
National Weather Service says winds of 40-50 mph with gusts to 65 mph are possible starting early this afternoon through early Wednesday morning. There is a potential for winds of 58-73 mph as Elsa passes by just offshore.
A tropical storm and storm surge warning remain in effect and a flood watch is in effect until Wednesday afternoon. Rainfall of 4 to 6 inches with isolated amounts of 6 to 10 inches is possible Tuesday afternoon and Tuesday night. Storm surge of 3 to 5 feet is possible.
NWS says residents should be prepared for the threat of high winds, including downed trees. All light-weight objects in your yard should be moved inside well before the storm arrives. Power outages are possible, so keep flashlights and battery-operated radios nearby. Duke Energy says its crews are preparing to respond to any potential impacts. Outages can be reported by texting OUT to 57801 or call 1-800-228-8485.
Flooding is the big threat, especially in coastal and low-lying areas. Be prepared to evacuate if necessary. Tornadoes also are a possibility as Elsa tracks just offshore. If a tornado threatens, move to an interior room in your home without windows if at all possible.
Pinellas County opened two shelters Tuesday morning. The Lealman Exchange, 5175 45th St. N. in St. Petersburg, is open for the general population, as well as those with special needs and pets. Ross Norton Recreation Center, 1425 S. Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. in Clearwater, is open for the general population.
Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority will offer free rides to either shelter. Pets in carriers will be allowed on the buses.
The county’s Information Center is open until further notice. Citizens can call 727-464-4333 to receive preparedness information. The deaf or hard of hearing can chat with a customer service representative at www.pinellascounty.org.
Residents are asked to shelter in place. Residents in flood-prone areas are encouraged to seek shelter with family and friends who live in a safer area.
At 11 a.m., Elsa was about 65 miles west-northwest of Key West and 215 miles south of Tampa. Maximum sustained winds were 60 mph. It was moving north-northwest at 10 mph. Elsa is expected to make landfall along the north Florida Gulf coast Wednesday morning.
During a press conference Tuesday morning, Burton said residents should shelter in place unless they live in flood-prone areas. Those residents are urged to move to a safe location well before the storm arrives.
Director of Emergency Management Cathie Perkins said the storm is expected to impact the county for about 12 hours, between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m.
Storm surge and flooding are the biggest concerns. Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said Elsa would be a “water event.”
“There’s going to be flooding and storm surge,” he said.
He said although there are no mandatory evacuations, residents in areas that are likely to flood should strongly consider moving to a safer place.
“People wake up in the middle of the night and they have water,” he said. “They call and we have to do rescues,” adding that water rescues in the dark are among the most dangerous.
The highest risk of storm surge will be from 11 p.m. to 3 a.m.
Because of the risk, the sheriff is closing the barrier islands from Dunedin to Pass-a-Grille from 6 p.m.-7 a.m. Only people with a need to be on the islands will be allowed entrance.
He said deputies with the necessary equipment to do rescues would be stationed on the beaches and in other areas that are prone to flooding throughout the night. However, if winds reach above 50 mph, he might have to pull them off the streets for safety reasons.
In general, emergency responders do not go out when winds reach 40 mph or higher.
Deputies also are prepared to monitor traffic signals in case of power outages, he said. He said the ground is saturated due to all the recent rains. Downed trees are a big possibility.
“Be prepared and stay as safe as you can be,” he said.
Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an executive order Saturday declaring a state of emergency for 15 counties in Florida, including counties along the west coast. Pinellas County Commissioners enacted a local state of emergency Sunday afternoon. President Joe Biden approved an emergency declaration on Sunday for areas that will most likely be affected by Elsa.
Pinellas County Schools will be closed Tuesday and Wednesday, July 6-7. All summer programming, including after-care/childcare program and school-related activities are canceled.
Pinellas County parks and government buildings will be closed starting at 2 p.m. and remain closed on Wednesday.
City of Clearwater offices, libraries and recreation centers will be closing at 1 p.m. Tuesday.
City of Largo will close its city hall and other facilities starting at 3 p.m. Tuesday. The city commission meeting on July 6 is canceled. Solid waste collection of Tuesday will continue as scheduled.
St. Pete Beach City Hall is closing at 1 p.m. Tuesday and Treasure Island is closing at noon.
Tarpon Springs city offices and facilities are closing at 1 p.m.
Residents can find preparedness information at www.pinellascounty.org/resident/disasters.htm.
The first step is to determine whether or not you live in an evacuation zone. You can find out your zone by visiting pinellascounty.org/knowyourzone. Residents with a land line can call 727-453-3150 and enter their 10-digit home phone number.
Persons who might need to stay in a special needs shelter, especially if they need help with transportation, should register for the season by calling 727-464-4333.
Residents that need to go to a shelter with their pet also need to sign up at www.pinellascounty.org/emergency/petpreparedness.
Everyone needs a survival kit and necessary items should be purchased well in advance. Be sure to include hygiene supplies and gather important papers. For those going to a shelter, the county recommends bringing face coverings and sanitizer.
Residents should have battery-operated flashlights and radios with you. Keep tuned in to local media for flood watches and warnings.
Review a checklist of survival kit items at www.pinellascounty.org/emergency/prepareahead.htm.
Officials also highly recommend that residents stay informed by signing up for Alert Pinellas at www.pinellascounty.org/alertpinellas.
Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority announced Sunday morning that buses would continue to provide service unless tropical storm winds reached 40 mph. Southwest Florida Water Management District had activated its emergency operations center to a Level 2 as it prepared for any possible impacts.
Tampa Bay Newspapers will continue to keep an eye on the storm and report on any updated information as it becomes available.