As Elsa moved towards Florida’s Gulf Coast Tuesday, airports throughout the region began preparing for the storm, warning travelers about imminent cancellations and the possibility that they’d have to shut down.
By 5 p.m., two of the largest airports in the region — Tampa International Airport and Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport — had announced they would shut down later in the day.
Sarasota-Bradenton officials announced mid-afternoon that the airport would cease operations at 6:30 p.m.
It joined Tampa’s airport, which announced at about 8:20 a.m. that it would suspend commercial service at 5 p.m. and follow that up with suspension of cargo service at 10 p.m.
Meanwhile, Punta Gorda Airport said it was keeping an eye on developments and that runways would remain open as long as conditions were safe. “However, if winds are sustained at 50 m.p.h., aircraft operations and tower operations will cease.”
Tuesday began with Tropical Storm Elsa working its way up the Gulf Coast, bringing with it heavy rains and fears of a storm surge that would lead to heavy flooding. By mid-afternoon, as airport officials watched to see how the storm would progress and decided how to move forward, Elsa began gaining strength and tropical storm watches turned to hurricane watches.
Gov. Ron DeSantis had already declared a state of emergency for 15 counties, including Polk, Pasco, Pinellas, Hillsborough, Manatee, Sarasota, Charlotte, Lee and Collier.
As the storm moved north and concern that a worse-than-expected storm was coming, airport officials took to social media to tell travelers to stay in contact with airlines for the latest information and for flight updates.
By late afternoon Tuesday, flights between St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport and airports in Ohio, New York and Kentucky were canceled. And on its website, Southwest International Airport was telling travelers that “if you are traveling this afternoon/evening on American, Frontier, JetBlue, Southwest or United, many flights have been cancelled. Other carriers will be making changes as TS Elsa progresses.”
With so many cancellations and delays, it is likely to take a few days to untangle the scheduling mess and for normalcy to return.
Despite that, airports in the region say they are ready for business as usual Wednesday morning.
Sarasota-Bradenton officials say they expect to re-open at 6 a.m. and Tampa International officials hope to resume operations at 10 a.m. after examining their facilities for damage.
At St.Pete-Clearwater, Yvette M. Aehle, deputy director of airport finance and administration, says, “everything is still on for tomorrow morning.”