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Storms to kick up tides, winds today

Severe thunderstorms are expected to roll across the Gulf of Mexico today, bringing strong winds and high tides that could threaten some coastal areas.

Mariners were warned not to venture offshore this morning, and motorists should expect delays as the storm limits visibility and snarls freeway traffic.

"This is a marginally threatening situation that bears watching," said David Rittenberry of the National Weather Service in Ruskin.

Typical of March storms, he said, today's front is part of a much larger weather pattern that likely will produce more snow for mid-Atlantic states and the Northeast.

Around Tampa Bay, the storm promises some lightning and hail as well as tides 2 to 3 feet higher than normal.

Today's high will be in the mid 70s with winds southwest 20 to 25 mph and gusty. Tonight should be cooler and partly cloudy, with lows in the upper 50s and northwest winds at 5 to 10 mph.

The worst of the storm will come sometime midmorning and early afternoon, but residents along flood-prone coastal areas were cautioned about exceptionally high tides.

"Those people who live in those areas know who they are," Rittenberry said. "We're not looking for any widespread flooding situations or anything that severe."

The Coast Guard urged boaters to stay ashore today.

"If you do not absolutely need to get under way, stay in at the dock," said Petty Officer Thomas Peck.

Seas were expected to be rough and unpredictable, starting with high tides early today and lasting throughout the day, he said.

"If mariners do not take precautions and watch the weather, they can be expecting a sharp reality later in the day," Peck said.

Although today will be cloudy and cool, the weekend should be dry and warm.

The weather service predicts a fair Thursday with highs in the mid 60s, to be followed by a warming trend Friday.

"It's looking pretty good right now," Rittenberry said, "as far as the weekend goes."