The National Weather Service has issued tropical storm watch warnings for the Florida Keys at 5 p.m. today. Tropical Storm Elsa currently has wind speeds of 70 mph, down from 85 mph yesterday. 

The forecast cone continues to center on the Florida Keys. The winds are expected to arrive in the Middle Keys between noon and 2 p.m. on Monday, July 5, and an hour or so later in Key West, according to Jon Rizzo, the National Weather Service’s warning coordination meteorologist in Key West. 

There are no plans to cancel Fourth of July fireworks at Keys locations. However, Monroe County Administrator Roman Gastesi is advising hotel guests to leave well before check out on Monday morning, with the intention of clearing the Keys by 2 p.m.  — or extending their stay to Wednesday. City of Marathon Manager George Garrett encouraged weekly vacation rental visitors to shelter in place late Monday and Tuesday until the storm clears the islands.

All residents should be taking proactive steps such as securing loose objects in the yard.

The track has shown very little deviation over the past 24 hours, with the highest likelihood the storm will pass over the Keys anywhere from Layton, west to Key West. However, weather experts are keeping a close eye on the storm’s intensity. Elsa is expected to cross eastern and central Cuba at a diagonal before emerging into the Straits of Florida. That amount of interaction with land is expected to weaken, and slow, the storm. At this moment, best estimates are that the storm will have wind speeds that are less than 60 mph as it approaches the Keys but that will depend on the storm’s forward motion, i.e. how long it has to re-strengthen at sea. 

“Rather than sustained winds, the Keys should expect squalls — or bands of weather with high wind and rain,” said Rizzo. 

Monroe County has issued a state of emergency, as has Gov. Ron DeSantis for parts of Florida, including the Keys. 

Monroe County will likely issue a voluntary evacuation of mobile homes and liveaboard vessels to safe structures for Monday, July 5 and Tuesday, July 6, and urges visitors and those in RVs and travel trailers in the Florida Keys to consider their Monday and Tuesday travel plans.

“The last thing we want is a lot of people leaving the Florida Keys on Monday at 11 a.m.,” said Gastesi. “We hope visitors will consider extending their stay through Wednesday, when we are expecting normal summertime conditions to resume, or to leave earlier on Monday to avoid traffic issues in the Upper Keys we normally see after busy holiday weekends.”

Mandatory evacuations are not expected for this storm. Monroe County has activated its hotline, manned from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Call 1-800-955-5504. 

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Sara Matthis thinks community journalism is important, but not serious; likes weird and wonderful children (she has two); and occasionally tortures herself with sprint-distance triathlons, but only if she has a good chance of beating her sister.