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More Wind Expected Today as Irene Heads North

Storm watches are in effect from the Carolinas through the mid-Atlantic as Hurricane Irene bears down on the East Coast.

Hurricane Irene brought a breeze to the Tampa Bay area on Thursday, and that breeze is expected to continue with noticeable gusts today as the Category 2 hurricane chugs up the coast.

The National Hurricane Center in Miami reports that tropical-storm-force winds now extend up to 290 miles from the center of the storm.

The Tampa Bay area sits outside that reach, but the local seven-day forecast from the National Weather Service still calls for elevated winds through Sunday, with gusts of up to 24 mph.

Irene is currently located off the east coast of Florida and is expected to move north of the state today. NOAA's latest forecast model projects that the hurricane will make landfall Saturday in North Carolina. 

North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue has declared a state of emergency, and evacuation orders have been issued for parts of the Outer Banks, where a hurricane warning is in effect. Irene could reach the coast there by Saturday morning with winds of 115 mph, according to Bill Read, director of the National Hurricane Center.

From there, the storm could reach the Delmarva Peninsula and the Jersey Shore over the weekend, possibly as a Category 2 storm, before moving into New York and New England by Monday, Read said. He cautioned that the entire Northeast corridor could experience heavy rain, high winds and some coastal flooding if Irene continues its north-northwest path, and even inland areas are at risk of widespread power outages from downed trees.

 The mid-Atlantic and New England could see a minimum of 5 to 10 inches of rain and tropical-force winds, Read said.

The weekend forecast for the Tampa Bay area calls for mostly sunny skies and highs in the low to mid 90s, with a chance of thunderstorms in the afternoon.

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