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Port restrictions remain as Elsa nears Florida landfall

Vessel movement prohibited in Tampa-area ports

The Coast Guard is continuing port condition Zulu for the ports of Tampa, St. Petersburg, Manatee and Fort Myers as Tropical Storm Elsa glides by Florida’s west coast. The condition was set at midnight Tuesday.

While port condition Zulu is in place, no vessels may enter or transit within these ports without permission from the captain of the port (COTP). Drawbridges in the area may cease operations as early as eight hours prior to the anticipated arrival of sustained gale force winds, or when an evacuation is in progress. During lockdown, the bridge is closed, power is turned off, traffic arms may be removed, the control house is secured and the bridge operator is sent to safety.

The ports of Jacksonville and Fernandina, Florida, are under port condition Yankee. These ports and facilities are currently open to all commercial traffic and all transfer operations may continue while Yankee remains in effect. Sustained winds between 35 and 54 mph are possible by Wednesday evening.

Vessels wanting to remain in port must immediately contact the COTP to receive permission and are required to submit a safe mooring plan in writing. Vessels bound for the ports of Fernandina or Jacksonville that are unable to depart eight hours prior to threatening winds making landfall are advised to seek an alternate destination.

As of 8 a.m. ET Wednesday, Elsa was centered just 35 miles west of Cedar Key, Florida, generating sustained winds of 65 mph with higher gusts. Elsa is moving northward at 12 mph, heading toward a landfall near Cedar Key late Wednesday morning or early afternoon.

According to the National Hurricane Center, little change in strength is likely until landfall, after which weakening is likely. Tropical-storm-force winds extend outward up to 90 miles from the center. A coastal marine automated network station at Cedar Key measured a sustained wind of 41 mph and a gust of 51 mph early Wednesday.

Elsa will cross southern Georgia and the Carolinas Wednesday night and Thursday. The NHC has issued storm surge warnings and tropical storm warnings for much of Florida’s west coast, with tropical storm warnings stretching along the Georgia and South Carolina coasts. Tropical storm watches are in place from eastern areas of North Carolina to the Delmarva Peninsula.

Some coastal areas in the storm surge warning could see water heights of up to 5 feet.

Portions of the Florida Keys, in addition to southwestern and western portions of the Florida Peninsula, could get drenched with 3 to 6 inches of rainfall Wednesday, with localized totals of up to 9 inches. Across the rest of Florida, 2 to 4 inches of rain are possible, with isolated spots getting up to 6 inches; 2 to 4 inches of rain are possible across portions of southeastern Georgia and the Lowcountry of South Carolina, with isolated totals of up to 6 inches.

Considerable flash and urban flooding are possible, with river flooding in some locations. Isolated tornadoes could pop up in some of these areas too.

Click here for more FreightWaves articles by Nick Austin.

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Nick Austin

Nick is a meteorologist with 20 years of forecasting and broadcasting experience. He was nominated for a Midsouth Emmy for his coverage during a 2008 western Tennessee tornado outbreak. He received his Bachelor of Science in Meteorology from Florida State University, as well as a Bachelor of Science in Management from the Georgia Tech. Nick is a member of the American Meteorological Society and National Weather Association. As a member of the weather team at WBBJ-TV in Jackson, Tennessee, Nick was nominated for a Mid-South Emmy for live coverage of a major tornado outbreak in February 2008. As part of the weather team at WRCB-TV in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Nick shared the Chattanooga Times-Free Press Best of the Best award for “Best Weather Team” eight consecutive years.