Lots of rain and gusting winds were Hurricane Elsa’s main impact on Southwest Florida as the storm passed northward in the Gulf of Mexico on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning.
The National Hurricane Center upgraded Elsa from a tropical storm to a Category 1 hurricane at 8 p.m. Tuesday as it passed offshore of Fort Myers. The storm had sustained winds of 75 miles per hour near its center, but those winds mostly stayed offshore as Elsa continued north past Tampa.
Beginning at about 8 p.m. Tuesday, storm bands began intensifying in Charlotte and south Sarasota counties, and thunderstorms and gusting winds raked the area through most of the night.
Elsa made landfall Wednesday morning near Steinhatchee about 75 miles southeast of Tallahassee in Florida’s “Big Bend” area. At that point, it was a tropical storm with 65 mph winds.
Wind swirled through Charlotte County, reaching 58 mph at 7:30 p.m. at the Tom Adams Bridge heading to Manasota Key.
The highest wind speed recorded at county stations fit the prediction that the greatest wind effects from Tropical Storm Elsa would be along barrier islands on the Gulf of Mexico. It also fits the last predictions from the National Weather Service that the storm would hit this area between 7-10 p.m.
In Charlotte County, the highest recorded rain fall was 6.74 inches at the county’s utility station at Pirate Harbor on the intracoastal waterway.
The county’s emergency management staff reported flooding at Riverside Drive, Hatchett Circle, Doredo Drive and Alta Vista Drive, but not enough to close the roads.
To alleviate flooding in South Gulf Cove, the county opened up the lock there on Wednesday, but not to boat traffic.
“Opening the lock will relieve high water volume throughout the canal system and minor road flooding in an uninhabited area east of St. Paul Drive adjacent to the lagoon,” Communications Manager Brian Gleason said.
“The lock is closed to vessel traffic due to strong currents. Public Works Department staff are on site to monitor for manatees and alert boaters to extreme currents,” the advisory read. It was reopened to boat traffic at about 3:30 p.m.
Florida Power and Light reported that 3,630 customers in Charlotte County had lost power and the utility had restored power to 3,130. As of Wednesday afternoon, 470 customers were without power.
The Punta Gorda Airport stayed open during the storm, but Allegiant cancelled three flights to Fort Wayne, Indiana; Lexington, Kentucky, and Columbus, Ohio. Some flights were delayed Wednesday morning as rain continued, Airport Marketing Director Kaley Miller told The Daily Sun. Another seven flights took off as planned Tuesday.
The county staffed the Emergency Operations Center overnight, said Fire Department spokesman Todd Dunn. There have been no calls for mutual aid to neighboring counties or elsewhere in the state, he said.
Charlotte County Public Schools issued a statement announcing that all activities will resume Thursday.
PUNTA GORDA STREETS FLOOD
Tropical Storm Elsa’s inundated Punta Gorda’s flood-prone streets. Mayor Lynne Matthews reported at least 24 flooded downtown-area streets in the storm’s aftermath Wednesday, including portions of Olympia and Marion avenues, Sullivan Street and West Retta Esplanade, and some streets that cross Tamiami Trail.
“As a whole, we’ve got minimal damage,” Punta Gorda Fire Chief Ray Briggs said at Wednesday’s City Council meeting. “We received lots of water in our normal Historic District location and even Burnt Store Isles and the (Burnt Store) Meadows area got flooding...What I can say in my assessment is the mitigation (of flooding) that this City Council and those City Councils prior to you had invested in really worked.”
Briggs said the city received around 6 inches of rain.
“So, again, we did very well,” Briggs said.
At Wednesday’s meeting, Matthews thanked city staff for all of their efforts and preparedness before the storm.
“Construction site dumpsters and other potential issues were immediately taken care of,” Matthews said. “Trash pickup was done extra early Tuesday and they even did a sweep through the neighborhoods to pickup extra yard debris and it was all done (before the storm came through).”
NORTH PORT STREETS FLOOD
Elsa caused overnight flooding on several streets in North Port.
The storm brought “a significant amount of rain to the city,” possibly 6-8 inches in a few hours, said Josh Taylor, city spokesperson.
Water receded on most of the streets impacted by early afternoon.
“We have no reports of damage to homes or structures,” Taylor said. “A few vehicles have gone into water they should not have. Crews have utilized our larger vehicles such as the NPPD Bearcat to help a few residents get out of impacted areas. Even water in those areas has mostly gone down.”
He said city crews were checking on potential damage.
“The city has also utilized NPPD’s drone team to assess the area. For now, we are looking good,” Taylor said.
The city closed Warm Mineral Springs Park due to a computer problem, and also Myakkahatchee Creek Environmental Park, Oak Park and all city athletic fields due to impacts from the storm.
ENGLEWOOD GETS SOAKED
Some low areas of Englewood experienced flooding over night and into the morning, including Beach Road in Charlotte County, and Manasota Key Road in Sarasota County, but even there, flood waters were receding by early afternoon.
Assistant Chief John Stubbs said the Englewood Fire District responded to a call Tuesday evening for a downed power line in the road at the 6700 block of Manasota Key Road.
“They arrived on scene and found a wire arcing,” he said. “It was creating quite the fireworks.”
Despite a light rainfall, the sparking wire ignited brush along Manasota Key Road. A Florida Power & Light crew arrived and cut power while firefighters put out the brush fire the powerline ignited.
“People saw the glow of fire,” Stubbs said. “They called in a structure fire. We responded but there was none.”
One benefit was seen in Rotonda West’s canal system, where the water level has been low due to this past spring drought.
Realtor Brett Slattery said the water gauge near his home showed the water level down 3 feet below normal on Tuesday before the storm.
“This same gauge, just one day after Elsa, shows the water level has been restored to normal. That’s great news for the 3,018 waterfront property owners in Rotonda, and points out the benefits a moderate tropical storm,” Slattery said.