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Winds Pick Up as Irene Sails Past Florida

Largo has been spared the worst of the major hurricane, but gusting winds are expected to last into the weekend.

That breeze in the air is Hurricane Irene blowing past Florida on its way up the East Coast. 

The storm moved through the central Bahamas on Wednesday and is picking up speed and strength in the Atlantic Ocean as it churns toward the Carolinas. The latest forecast track from the National Hurricane Center in Miami projects Irene will make landfall in coastal North Carolina on Saturday afternoon, and a hurricane watch has been issued for the area.

Even though Irene is bypassing Florida, tropical-storm-force winds are extending up to 205 miles from the center of the storm, according to the National Hurricane Center. To put that in perspective, 200 miles is about the distance from Tampa to Jacksonville. 

The local seven-day forecast from the National Weather Service calls for strong winds and occasional thunderstorms in the Tampa Bay area through Sunday, with gusts peaking near 30 mph on Friday. Conditions are expected to return to normal at the start of the week. 

Florida emergency management officials suggest that residents take lawn furniture and other landscape items indoors as a precaution as the storm passes, and remove any tree branches or other debris in the yard that could be displaced by wind. Garage doors are particularly susceptible to wind and may need to be reinforced for hurricane season.

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