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Tropical storm warning in effect for Jersey Shore as Elsa moves through, with flood watches throughout region

Up to six inches of rain could fall at the Shore, and tornadoes aren't out of the question, the weather service says.

Beach Patrol stands have been dragged up to higher ground by life guards on the beach in Atlantic City Thursday, hours before the arrival of Tropical Storm Elsa.
Beach Patrol stands have been dragged up to higher ground by life guards on the beach in Atlantic City Thursday, hours before the arrival of Tropical Storm Elsa.Read moreTOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer

» Update: Tropical Storm Elsa moves out of the Philly region, leaving some possible tornadoes and minor flooding in its wake

With its predicted path bringing Elsa close enough to the Jersey Shore to require a beach tag, the National Hurricane Center has the entire New Jersey and Delaware coasts under a tropical storm warning for torrential rains, with isolated totals up to a half-foot, and gusts past 45 mph.

A flash flood watch is in effect for the entire region with rainfall up to three inches possible on the mainland. However for areas around the Delaware River on west this is likely to be mainly a rainstorm — albeit an impressive one — with a name.

The Shore would endure the brunt of the winds, and a tornado was “not out of the realm of possibility,” said Lee Robertson, a National Weather Service meteorologist in the Mount Holly Office.

“This is a dangerous storm, and we should all be prepared,” said Atlantic City Mayor Marty Small Sr. The city was anticipating minor to moderate flooding in the back-bay neighborhoods in the early-morning hours.

Rains had overspread the Shore towns by late Thursday night, and heavy rains set off flood advisories for Cape May and Cumberland Counties, and for Kent and Sussex Counties Delaware, in effect until 6 a.m.

At 11 p.m., the center of Elsa was in Virginia, about 170 miles from Atlantic City, with peak winds at 50 mph, the hurricane center said. It was moving northeast at 25 mph.

The projected track had shifted subtly west the last few days, and as of late Thursday the center of the storm was due to pass quite closely to the Jersey barrier islands in the predawn hours of Friday, said Paul Walker, senior meteorologist with AccuWeather Inc.

“I’m not sure it really matter where it lands,” he added. The effects will precede its arrival by several hours and probably by hundreds of miles.

On Thursday afternoon, for example, heavy rains had spread into Virginia, well away from the center.

Those rains were expected to begin across the Philadelphia region around 9 or 10 p.m. Thursday, Walker said, with the heaviest downpours continuing for about six hours. Walker said the strongest winds at the Shore would last four or five hours Friday morning.

» READ MORE: Isaias leaves destruction and thousands in Philly region without power

Road flooding was likely in the beach towns, however the storm surge was not expected to be catastrophic, nothing on the order of the devastating Sandy, which made landfall near Brigantine in October 2012.

Historically, direct hits by tropical systems have been infrequent in the Garden State, which runs parallel to most coastal storm tracks, as opposed to Long Island, or the southeast coast of North Carolina, which juts into the Atlantic.

“It is hard for New Jersey to get hit by tropical storms and hurricanes, given the orientation of the coastline,” said Phil Klotzbach, a hurricane researcher with Colorado State University Tropical Meteorology Project.

Only once in the period of record, in 1903, did an actual hurricane make landfall in New Jersey, and in the 20th century, landfalls in the state by tropical systems occurred on average once every 20 years.

But three have occurred just in the last 13 years — Hannah in 2008; Irene in 2011; and Fay on July 10, 2020. Noticeably absent on that list would be Sandy, which technically was a “post tropical” cyclone.

Not that the distinction mattered to the hundreds of thousands who lost power across the region.

Staff writer Amy S. Rosenberg contributed to this article.

This is a developing story and will be updated.