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A weakened Tropical Storm Elsa could still bring flooding to Florida

Elsa was blamed for three deaths in the Caribbean, where it was the first hurricane of the 2021 Atlantic season. Forecasters warned it could strengthen.

Tropical Storm Elsa kept on a path toward Florida on Monday, threatening the Florida Keys and the state's Gulf Coast after having killed at least three people in the Caribbean.

Forecasters with the National Hurricane Center said they expected the storm to move into the Florida Straits on Monday night and pass near or over parts of Florida on Tuesday. They issued a storm surge warning north to the Florida Panhandle.

Elsa had been the first hurricane of the 2021 Atlantic season before it weakened and was downgraded. It marked an unusually early start, more than a month before the average date of Aug. 14, for the Atlantic hurricane season.

Tropical Storm Elsa.NOAA

Manmade climate change and other factors have combined to cause more frequent and bigger tropical storms, experts have said.

Elsa was not expected to cause further search delays at the collapsed condo tower in Surfside, on the state's east coast. Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said on NBC News' "TODAY" show that she did not expect a major impact on the work of search and rescue crews at the site, where the death toll has risen to 27 people.

On the west coast, including near Tampa Bay, flooding could reach 3 to 5 feet above ground level if it coincides with high tide, the National Hurricane Center said.

"This is a life-threatening situation," the center said in an advisory. It warned that rainfall could be up to 8 inches in some areas. "Persons located within these areas should take all necessary actions to protect life and property from rising water and the potential for other dangerous conditions," it said.

Hernando County, north of Tampa, issued a voluntary evacuation order Monday for part of the coast, mobile homes and low-lying areas.

Forecasters advised people in coastal Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina to monitor the progress of Elsa and watch for additional advisories.

The storm weakened Monday — with maximum sustained winds falling to 50 mph from 65 mph earlier in the day — but it could strengthen again over the Gulf of Mexico, the center said.

Elsa caused two deaths in the Dominican Republic and one in St. Lucia, authorities said. And in Cuba, where the storm was centered Monday afternoon, officials evacuated 180,000 people as a precaution against heavy flooding, The Associated Press reported.

"We continue with maximum attention focused on the track of storm Elsa through Cuba," Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel tweeted. "Authorities are working all over the country."