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Tropical Storm Andrea Strengthens, Bears Down on North Florida

MIAMI (AP) — The first tropical storm of the Atlantic hurricane season got a little stronger early Thursday as it headed toward Florida's western gulf coast and a new tropical storm warning was issued for a swath of the U.S. East Coast.

Tropical Storm Andrea's maximum sustained winds increased to near 60 mph (95 kph) and the storm was expected to reach Florida's Big Bend area later in the day before moving across southeastern Georgia and the Carolinas.

Tropical Storm Warnings has been issued for a large section of Florida's west coast from Boca Grande to Indian Pass, and for inland counties of North Florida, including Alachua and Marion. Tropical storm warnings are also on the Atlantic East Coast from Flagler Beach, Fla., all the way to Cape Charles Light in Virginia.

UF Meteorologist Jeff Huffma says this will be mostly a heavy rain event, with the potential for some coastal wind damage, and possible tornadoes in rain bands later today. Andrea could bring three to 6 inches of rain to the Florida Panhandle and southeastern Georgia, with isolated areas seeing as much as 8 inches.

As of about 5 a.m. EDT, the storm was centered about 220 miles (355 kilometers) west-southwest of Tampa and was moving north-northeast near 13 mph (20 kph).

In Florida, Gulf Islands National Seashore closed its campgrounds and the road that runs through the popular beach-front park Wednesday. The national seashore abuts Pensacola Beach and the park road frequently floods during heavy rains. On Pensacola Beach, condominium associations asked people to remove furniture on high balconies because of the expected high winds and beach lifeguards warned tourists of possible high surf.

A forecast map predicts the storm will continue along the East Coast through the weekend before heading out to sea again, though a storm's track is often hard to predict days in advance.