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Tropical storm Elsa forms over Atlantic

NEW YORK (NYTIMES) – Tropical Storm Elsa, the fifth named storm of the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season, formed Thursday (July 1) and was projected to deliver dangerous rains and winds to several Caribbean islands.

The National Hurricane Centre issued a tropical storm warning, which indicates tropical storm conditions are expected within 36 hours, for St. Vincent and the Grenadines on Thursday morning, joining Barbados, Martinique and St. Lucia.  

A tropical storm watch – indicating that tropical storm conditions are possible within 36 hours – was issued Thursday evening for Jamaica and a portion of the Dominican Republic.

The centre warned that many other islands in the region, including the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, should monitor the storm.

The storm was about 345miles (555km) east south-east of Barbados on Thursday evening, moving west north-west at about 28mph (45kmh) with maximum sustained winds of 45mph.

It was projected to pass near or over parts of the Windward Islands or the southern Leeward Islands on Friday, bringing as much as 10 inches (25cm) of rain to those islands, as well as to Barbados.

The system was also expected to move into the eastern Caribbean Sea on Friday evening and then move near Hispaniola on Saturday.

Elsa was expected to produce 1-3 inches of rain as it moved over Puerto Rico, with localised amounts of as high as 5 inches on Friday into Saturday. This rain could produce flash flooding and mudslides, the Hurricane Centre said.

Tropical storm-force winds Thursday extended up to 90 miles from the storm’s centre, mostly to the north, the Hurricane Centre said.

The centre said it was too soon to determine what effect the storm might have on Florida, where a search for survivors of a collapsed condo building near Miami was halted Thursday out of concern that the portion of the building that remained standing could also fall.

Forecasters said there was a risk of rain, wind and storm surge next week in South Florida and the Florida Keys.

Ana became the first named storm of the season May 23, making this the seventh year in a row that a named storm developed in the Atlantic before the official start of the season on June 1.

The links between hurricanes and climate change are becoming more apparent. A warming planet can expect to experience stronger hurricanes over time, and a higher incidence of the most powerful storms – although the overall number of storms may drop, because factors like stronger wind shear might keep weaker storms from forming.

Hurricanes are also becoming wetter because of more water vapour in the warmer atmosphere. Scientists have suggested that storms like Hurricane Harvey in 2017 produced far more rain than they would have without the human effects on climate. Also, rising sea levels are contributing to higher storm surge – the most destructive element of tropical cyclones.

Researchers have suggested that climate change is also causing some storms to intensify more rapidly, which, as a recent study in the journal Nature Communications put it, “can lead to disastrous scenarios when coastal areas are not given adequate notice to evacuate and prepare for an extremely intense” storm.

Scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecast that there would be 13 to 20 named storms this year, six to 10 of which would be hurricanes, and three to five major hurricanes of Category 3 or higher in the Atlantic.

Last year, there were 30 named storms, including six major hurricanes, causing meteorologists to exhaust the alphabet for the second time and move to using Greek letters.

It was the highest number of storms on record, surpassing the 28 storms in 2005, and included the second-highest number of hurricanes on record.

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