VENICE — Rain bands and initial winds were coming across Sarasota County on Tuesday night as a tropical storm moved north through the Gulf of Mexico.
By 8 p.m., the storm was upgraded to hurricane status by National Weather Service Tampa based in Ruskin.
It is known as Hurricane Elsa.
Authorities worked through the long holiday weekend in anticipation of the hurricane that weakened near Cuba but was expected to regained hurricane strength later Tuesday night.
A hurricane warning was posted from Egmont Key in Tampa Bay to the Steinhatchee River — west of Gainesville.
Sarasota County remained in a tropical storm warning — along with the west coast of Florida from Flamingo — in the Keys — to Egmont Key.
Stores and restaurants closed early Tuesday with much of Venice Avenue shuttered. The city of Venice along with North Port said they would keep their offices closed Wednesday.
States of emergency were declared by Venice, North Port and Sarasota County on Monday, according to authorities.
The track of the storm looked like it would make landfall sometime today north of Tampa. It was moving about 10 mph on Tuesday evening.
Officials will continue monitoring Elsa’s path.
Sarasota County Emergency Management Director Ed McCrane noted his crew has had meetings with the National Weather Service every six hours and while Elsa was tracking farther west, it will impact the Gulf Coast. He said the area could expect up to a half-foot of rain over the next few days and wind gusts Tuesday up to 50 mph.
There could be a storm surge of several feet.
“There may be some damage to weaker structures like carports,” he said.
Elsa has some similarities to the location of Hurricane Eta that passed into the Gulf of Mexico west of the region in November, Charlotte County Emergency Management Director Patrick Fuller said. Eta was farther out into the Gulf of Mexico than Elsa, but was a much bigger storm, he said. It caused flooding of some older homes on the county’s barrier islands.
Models are better at predicting a storm’s path than they were in 2004 when Hurricane Charley made an unexpected direct hit on Punta Gorda, Fuller said. But it’s still harder to predict wind speed of a storm, he said. Increased wind speed can increase storm surge with high winds able to spin off small tornadoes, he said.
Residents were getting tornado watch notices Tuesday. An upgrade to a warning arrives when experts or a radar has identified a tornado in the area. The National Weather Service sends out those alerts, Fuller said.
McCrane said the county is watching the storm and has signed off a local state of emergency — an administrative move to make sure if things go wrong, authorities can cut through paperwork to make it right.
The county is fully staffing its Emergency Operation Center “in order to monitor in the event that something does occur,” McCrane said.
A storm surge of less than 3 feet is expected, but, he noted, that could lead to some flooding in some coastal homes and inland roads if it occurs during high tide, pinpointing Longboat Key as an area of concern.
There is no expectation the county will open evacuation centers at this point.
He stressed to not attempt to drive through a flooded road.
“Turn around — don’t try to go through that water. You’ll end up getting stranded and someone will have to get you. Don’t take a chance and drive through water,” McCrane said.
The storm still poses a threat, he said.
“Any time there’s severe weather, there’s some reason to be concerned,” he said.
County and city summer camps and reservations for county parks are canceled. Refunds can be discussed with the county by calling 941-861-7275.