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Today’s balmy, spring-like weather promises to turn wild this afternoon when high winds and potentially dangerous thunderstorms roll across central North Carolina, including the Triangle.

The storms will be triggered by a cold front moving in from the west, said Barrett Smith, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service at N.C. State University’s Centennial Campus.

The weather service is warning residents who live in Wake, Harnett and Johnston counties and points east that the storms could produce damaging winds and isolated tornadoes starting early this afternoon until early evening.

“It’s going to be windy whether you’re in the middle of a thunderstorm or not,” Smith said this morning.

The storms will accompany a formidable cold front that will move across the Piedmont. Meteorologists say that sustained winds of 20 to 30 mph are likely with possibly higher gusts that could damage trees and power lines. This afternoon’s high temperatures will approach 80, before plunging into the low 40s overnight.

This morning’s low temperature in Raleigh was 65 degrees — about 30 degrees above average for this time of year and more like the average morning low in mid-June.

Tornado watches were posted Friday morning for a large part of the South, extending from eastern Alabama into Virginia and including the western Carolinas. Forecasters said those watches could be pushed eastward by midday.

The Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., has placed a large part of central and eastern North Carolina, including all of the Triangle, under a “Moderate Risk” of severe weather today. Darin Figurskey, meteorologist-in-charge of the weather service’s office in Raleigh, said in a briefing Friday morning that there is a 10 percent chance of wind gusts reaching 75 mph or stronger.

“These high chances are not forecast often,” Figurskey said.

The Triangle also was placed under a “Moderate Risk” on the morning of April 16, 2011, when tornadoes ripped across the eastern half of the state.

The weather service is advising residents to “make necessary preparations” in anticipation of the severe weather threat.

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