UPDATE as of 5:15 p.m. Wednesday...

Just jumping in here to add the latest 5 p.m. updates from the National Hurricane Center. Elsa is now inland now, and on-track. The Tropical Storm Watch has been extended as far north as Cape Cod, Massachusetts. In addition, a Flash Flood Watch has been issued for New Jersey from Thursday night through Friday morning.

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A Tropical Storm Watch (coral) has been issued for the Jersey Shore ahead of Elsa's Thursday night arrival.
Forecast track for Tropical Storm Elsa, as of 5 p.m. Wednesday. (NOAA / NHC)

ORIGINAL POST from 12:42 p.m. Wednesday...

Tropical Storm Watch

The National Hurricane Center, in conjunction with the National Weather Service, has extended Elsa's Tropical Storm Watch as far north as the Jersey Shore.

A Tropical Storm Watch (coral) has been issued for the Jersey Shore ahead of Elsa's Thursday night arrival.

As the map shows, the watch includes Cape May, Atlantic, southeastern Burlington, Ocean, and Monmouth counties.

What It Means

A Tropical Storm Watch means that tropical storm force winds (39+ mph) are possible within 48 hours, potentially accompanied by heavy rain and storm surge.

It's a signal that any necessary preparations by emergency management officials and the public should kick into high gear ahead of the storm. (More on that in a sec.)

Once the wind arrival time is within 36 hours, the watch will likely be upgraded to a warning. We'll probably see the watches and warnings extend farther north along the Atlantic seaboard too.

It's also important to note that even though the watch only covers coastal counties, all of New Jersey could experience some nasty wind and rain from Elsa.

The Forecast

Elsa is still forecast to brush past New Jersey as a tropical storm late Thursday night. In fact, the latest track from the NHC puts Elsa's center slicing across southern New Jersey (from Cumberland to northern Ocean counties) early Friday morning. That is a slight jog north from previous models and forecasts.

Forecast track for Tropical Storm Elsa, as of 11 a.m. Wednesday. (NOAA / NHC)
A zoomed-in version of Elsa's latest track forecast. Don't focus too much on the thin black line, representing Elsa's center. The storm isn't just a single point, after all. (NOAA / NHC)

Other than that, there is little change from my previous forecast.

The wind will really start to kick up as early as 8 p.m. Thursday evening. Gusts of 30+ mph (inland) and 40+ mph (coast) seem a good bet through about daybreak Friday morning.

In addition, a swath of rain is likely to sweep through New Jersey between Thursday late afternoon and Friday mid morning. Rainfall totals will range from at least a half-inch (inland) to an inch (coast). If heavy tropical rain bands set up (and they probably will), localized areas could reach 2 to 4 inches of rain.

The bottom line: The farther south and east you are (the closer to Elsa's center), the more impactful the rain and wind will be.

Meanwhile, I still believe Elsa's coastal impacts are going to be very limited here in NJ. There will be some rough surf and rip current concerns both during and after the storm. And up to a foot of storm surge could cause some very localized tidal flooding concerns. But Elsa is NOT another Sandy - it's coming from the wrong direction to cause a huge storm surge at the Jersey Shore.

What You Should Do Now

Your storm preparation plan should include whatever you would do for a non-tropical storm system.

In other words? Probably nothing special.

Weather conditions will range from inclement to downright nasty during the peak of the storm: Thursday evening through early Friday morning. Most New Jerseyans will be tucked into bed at that time, safe and sound inside a sturdy building. Having said that, there are three concerning impacts:

1.) The heavy rain may lead to flash and/or river flooding, forcing road closures, property damage, and/or (worst-case scenario) evacuations.

2.) The wind could bring down trees and power lines, causing extended power outages. (Crews won't be able to make repairs until the wind calms down.)

3.) The wind threat also makes mobile and manufactured structures (such as mobile homes, RVs, vehicles, etc.) potentially dangerous places to ride out the storm.

Again, the coast is not facing serious storm surge. Maybe a foot of water rise in a few spots. Along with rough surf and potential beach erosion.

What's Next?

With 36 to 48 hours to go until Elsa's "brunt" arrives here in New Jersey, we're now settling in to "watch the wiggle". As we get a better sense for the exact track and orientation of the storm as it cuts through the southeastern United States, we'll continue to dial in these forecast details.

More specifically, I hope to offer a specific timeline of when the rain/wind will arrive, when it will peak, and when it will subside. (Hopefully that will be published by about 7 a.m. Thursday.)

Dan Zarrow is Chief Meteorologist for Townsquare Media New Jersey. Follow him on Facebook or Twitter for the latest forecast and realtime weather updates.

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