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Storms packing 60-mph winds do damage in north Pinellas

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Published:   |   Updated: August 22, 2013 at 01:53 PM

CLEARWATER — High winds and several lightning strikes caused extensive damage in northern Pinellas County on Wednesday evening, leaving a downed billboard, damaged cars and small fires in their wake.

The storm, which rolled in after 5 p.m. and lingered for hours but caused no reported injuries, was just the latest in a series of summer storms that have caused extensive destruction throughout the Tampa Bay area.

At J-Linn Motors, a car dealership at 1611 Clearwater-Largo Road in Clearwater, seven poles holding up a billboard owned by Clear Channel Communications toppled onto more than a dozens cars parked in the sales lot.

“I was inside with (co-workers and a customer), and we heard a really loud crash,” said Brei Lovell, who works in the sales office. “We all scrambled to the window to see what happened.”

The storm damaged as many as 20 cars, including a restored 1972 Volkswagen Beetle convertible, she said. As of yet, there is no estimate of the cost of the damage at the car lot or to the billboard.

Several other storm-related incidents were noted in north Pinellas, including lightning-related fires at the North Greenwood Recreation Center in Clearwater and a backyard shed on 10th Street Southwest in Largo, said Ernie Jillson, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in Ruskin.

A rain gauge in Tarpon Springs measured 1.4 inches of total rainfall for the day, and winds hit 60 mph or stronger, based on radar data and the extent of the damage, Jillson said. No funnel clouds or tornadoes were detected or reported.

Storms have been more intense lately because they have been moving in from the Atlantic Ocean, gathering steam as they move over land and are exposed to higher temperatures for longer periods of time, Jillson said. Strong storms are expected to continue battering the region. This afternoon's forecast calls for thunderstorms through the evening in region, with winds between 9 and 12 mph, according to the National Weather Service.

kbradshaw@tampatrib.com

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