Hurricane Elsa's early track is reminiscent of Hurricane Dennis
Hurricane Elsa became the first hurricane of the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season on Friday, but it's not quite the first of its kind.
Historical data indicates only a handful of storms have had a similar track and timing as Elsa, but one of them was Hurricane Dennis, a 2005 storm that made landfall in Northwest Florida.
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Reports Friday indicated Elsa was a Category 1 hurricane moving through the Windward Islands and approaching Jamaica and Cuba. Any potential impact to Florida will likely come next week.
According to the meteorological consulting firm WeatherTiger, only nine storms since 1851 have matched Elsa’s general timing and track through the southern or central Windwards. Most of those storms have either dissipated in the Caribbean or swung through the Gulf of Mexico west of Florida.
One of the exceptions was Dennis, an unusually strong July hurricane that left a trail of destruction from the Caribbean Sea to the northern Gulf Coast.
Dennis formed as a tropical depression July 4, 2005, and made landfall as a Category 3 hurricane near Navarre on July 10.
The hurricane was initially projected to hit Okaloosa County as a Category 4, but it weakened shortly before landfall and shifted slightly west. The storm passed through the area quickly, which likely helped limit the destruction, but Dennis still ripped out chunks of coastal roads, yanked down utility poles, washed away sections of the Navarre Fishing Pier and damaged 26 structures beyond repair.
Dennis — which was sandwiched between the devastating hurricanes Ivan in 2004 and Katrina in August 2005 — was the last hurricane to cause widespread destruction in the Florida Panhandle for a more than a decade.
Historic photos: Hurricane Dennis in 2005
More photos: Hurricane Dennis
The Category 5 Hurricane Michael broke that streak when it flattened much of Panama City in 2018. Then in 2020, Hurricane Sally dealt a significant blow to Pensacola.
Still, current forecasts give hope that Hurricane Elsa will spare our area.
Patrick Maddox, Okaloosa County's director of public safety, wrote in a pair of weather updates Friday that "at this point, sustained tropical storm force winds are not anticipated in Okaloosa County, but changes in track or intensity can affect that forecast."
According to Maddox, there are still models that predict Elsa staying east of Florida in the Atlantic. Most other models "consistently kept Elsa taking the Northeast turn in a manner which spares Okaloosa County significant impact."
Maddox said the county does not currently anticipate declaring a local state of emergency, activating the Emergency Operations Center beyond command staff monitoring or opening shelters. Still, he cautioned that changes in track or intensity can alter expected local impacts.
In the meantime, people are urged to stay up to date on the latest information and have a hurricane plan in place.