For many Pinellas County residents, Tropical Storm Elsa was nothing more than noise in the night with the storm barely affecting even the most flood-prone waterfront spaces.
At around 2 a.m on Wednesday, July 7, Elsa’s winds remained at a sustained 70 mph. After fluctuating from a tropical storm to a category one hurricane over multiple days, she was downgraded once again to a tropical storm once she bumped into Tampa Bay.
The result? Mostly large puddles.
“We did not see any major impacts to the city other than some localized flooding,” Gulfport’s Cultural Facilities Director Justin Shea said.
The storm passed over Tampa Bay and Pinellas County in the wee hours on Wednesday, July 7. When locals emerged in the morning, there was minimal damage.
Gulfport’s Shore Boulevard and Beach Boulevard didn’t close down despite heavy rains and some power outages throughout the night.
According to city officials, Gulfport will return to normal without any major issues.
Beaches Get ‘Lucky’
“It seems the timing of the bands of wind gusts and high tides were to our advantage, and we had minimal flooding potential,” Madeira Beach City Manager Bob Daniels wrote in an email Wednesday morning. “We are lucky! Now we will get the streets clean, check our stormwater inlets, and get back to work.”
The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office had limited access to the barrier island communities on Tuesday afternoon in anticipation of Elsa, but by 6:30 a.m. Wednesday, opened the beaches for regular traffic.
“Pinellas County was fortunate to have not experienced more severe weather as forecasted,” the PCSO wrote in a release Wednesday morning. “No rescues were conducted overnight due to high water or flooding.”
According to the release, no injuries from the storm had been reported.
Puddles and Power Outages
Shea stayed up the entirety of Wednesday night, and was more than a little relieved with the outcome.
“We really dodged a bullet here, but we did take full precautions,” Shea said.
According to Shea, the City of Gulfport did see some overnight power outages, with the highest number at any given time being 137 residences, including Gulfport’s City Hall.
It took less than an hour for that number to drop to 13, with no reported prolonged loss of power for any homes or businesses.
In contrast to Gulfport’s last major storm Eta, which brought major waterfront flooding and multiple boats ashore, all of the vessels in Gulfport’s Marina stayed put.
Eighteen of the 25 boats were connected to mooring balls, anchoring devices designed for inclimate weather, according to Shea.
“The mooring balls are going to be key this year,” Shea said. “During Eta, the majority of the vessels were not using them.”
Gulfport’s City Hall opened back up at 12 p.m. on Wednesday, and residents can expect the Gulfport Recreation Center Summer Camp and Gulfport Casino Ballroom to return to normal schedules tomorrow, Thursday, July 8.
Gulfport’s businesses did not forget the storm surge and flooding damage from Eta, and the city dispersed over 7,500 sandbags from Sunday to Tuesday – many of which could be seen at the doors of shopfronts on Tuesday.
Stella’s owner Barbara Banno checked the popular diner at 2914 Beach Blvd S. early Wednesday morning to assess the situation.
The shop owner did her part to prepare, using sandbags, boarding up windows and ensuring Stella’s generator was in shape prior to Elsa.
“Thankfully, everything was fine,” Banno reported. “We didn’t lose power.”
Anita McLaughlin, the owner of Funky Flamingo on 1418 58th St. S., housed one of her employees overnight at the deli.
With Funky’s deemed a safe spot in the storm, McLaughlin offered up her shop to anyone in need of a place to ride out the winds.
“I live just a few blocks up the road,” McLaughlin said. “We were very lucky; nothing happened aside from a lot of wind at 2 a.m.”
While the Bay area avoided major damages this time, Elsa was the first storm of the 2021 hurricane season to affect the area, and there’s more predicted on the horizon.