Tropical storm Elsa has now formed in the Atlantic and become the earliest fifth named storm on record, while only just missing another record for forming the furthest east this early in the season and is now forecast to track towards Florida and the Gulf Coast by early next week.
The previous record for the earliest fifth named tropical storm formation in the Atlantic was held by Edouard from the hyperactive 2020 season, which formed on July 6th 2020.
Update – Friday, July 2nd 13:45 BST:
Tropical storm Elsa has strengthened into the first hurricane of the 2021 Atlantic season, with sustained winds currently at 75 mph as it nears Barbados and the windward islands. Our latest update here.
Tropical storm Elsa has been named while the storm was further east of 50°W. Renowned tropical forecaster Phil Klotzbach said that “only one other Atlantic named storm (Storm 2 of 1933) has formed in the tropics (south of 23.5°N) and east of 50°W by July 1 on record.”
So a notable storm, both for how early in the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season we are to have a fifth named storm, as well as for where tropical storm Elsa formed.
But whether storm Elsa will be notable for its strength, or impacts to land, remains very uncertain at this time, but it is a tropical storm to watch for the insurance, reinsurance and insurance-linked securities (ILS) market.
Currently, tropical storm Elsa is churning across the Atlantic towards the Caribbean windward islands with maximum sustained winds estimated at 40 mph and higher gusts, while the storms minimum central pressure is measured at 1006 mb.
Tropical storm Elsa is making rapid progress and heading west and slightly north at roughly 25 mph, according to NOAA, making it a particularly fast moving tropical storm.
At this time, wind shear is said to be anomalously low in the Caribbean and with tropical storm Elsa forecast to track over open water for a few days there is a chance of the storm intensifying to become hurricane Elsa, by the time it reaches the central Caribbean this weekend.
Precisely where the storm tracks is very hard for meteorologists to forecast at this time, with islands such as Haiti, Jamaica and Cuba all in its path.
Beyond the Caribbean, the current forecasts show tropical storm Elsa approaching the Florida peninsula on Monday night or in the early hours of Tuesday local time, then moving north either into Florida, or towards a Gulf Coast landfall, or heading up the US eastern seaboard, depending on which forecast model you look at.
With the intensity of a storm or hurricane Elsa hard to forecast right now, the current forecast path should be enough to put insurance, reinsurance, catastrophe bond and ILS fund interests on alert.
NOAA says that additional strengthening is forecast, but isn’t drawn on how much to expect.
Meanwhile modelled intensity guidance shows Elsa as anything from a mid-strength tropical storm to a Category 2 hurricane by the time it approaches Florida, a wide spread of uncertainty, as shown below in the graphic from Tropical Tidbits.
It is interesting to note how this intensity guidance reflects uncertainty in the models and the potential for wind shear to increase over the weekend. But then also shows a resurgence in intensity as possible next week, as some models anticipate it could reach the warmer Gulf stream waters off the east coast.
Also below, you can see a couple of additional forecast models from Tropical Tidbits, which demonstrate the difference in suggested paths and tracks for tropical storm Elsa, ranging from a Florida peninsula landfall to the Gulf Coast. There is a particularly wide spread of uncertainty in the forecast models at this time.
It is very early days still for any predictions on tropical storm Elsa’s eventual strength, path and possible landfall locations. But Elsa is the first storm of 2021 to look like it has a chance of becoming a hurricane and perhaps sustaining that kind of strength to landfall.
There are a large number of uncertainties, not least to do with wind shear, the lack of it in the Caribbean and the chances of it ramping up as Elsa moves nearer to the US, as well as land interaction with mountainous islands in the Caribbean, plus just how and where the storm travels, as well as whether it could move into the Gulf of Mexico, where it could intensify more if shear reduced there.
More imminently though, heavy rainfall is forecast for the Caribbean islands in Elsa’s path, with storm totals of 8 inches or higher possible.
So definitely a tropical storm to watch over the coming days and weekend. Insurance, reinsurance and ILS market interests can keep track of it over on our 2021 Atlantic hurricane season page and we’ll update you should a more significant threat develop.