TRUCKEE (CBS SF) — After a nearly bone-dry February, Northern California was bracing for a three-day storm front Wednesday that could dump more than 1 1/2 inches of rain in San Francisco and more than six feet of snow at the higher elevations in the Sierra.

The storm — churned to life in the frigid waters of the Gulf of Alaska — was packing chilly temperatures, gusty breezes, unstable air, sudden downpours and plenty of snow.

Amounts of rain in the Bay Area by Thursday afternoon will range from 1/2″ to 1.5″ in most areas. Coastal ranges can expect 1.5″ to 3″. One unfortunately part is the timing. The Thursday morning commute will likely be very wet and windy.

Forecasters said by early Friday morning, the Bay Area’s highest peaks — 4,350-foot Mt. Hamilton and 3,849-foot Mt. Diablo — could be transformed into a winter wonderland.

Meanwhile, the National Weather Service issued a winter storm warning and a blizzard warning for the Lake Tahoe area for Wednesday night until Saturday morning. Snow levels will tumbled to 2,000 feet with accumulations of 1-3 feet at lake level and 3-6 feet at the higher elevations.

Forecasters said the worst conditions were expected Thursday through Thursday night in the central Sierra with winds up to 50 mph or more and snowfall rates of 2-4 inches per hour.

“Travel will be very dangerous to impossible along Interstate 80 over the Sierra and Highway 395 in Mono County during this time,” the weather service wrote in its forecast.

NWS forecaster Zach Tolby didn’t mince words calling the storm a “once-a-winter kind of event.”

“I’ve lived in the Sierra for many years and I wouldn’t try to travel over Donner Summit or drive on Highway 395 through Mono County during the heart of this storm,” Tolby wrote in his forecast discussion.

While snow will continue in the Sierra and Mono County through Saturday morning, winds were expected to weaken enough that blizzard conditions should subside by Friday morning in the Tahoe Basin.


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