California braces for "storm of the decade"

A wave breaks at Mavericks at Half Moon Bay in Monterey Bay, California.

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Last Updated Dec 9, 2014 12:20 PM EST

A powerful storm system described by forecasters as the "storm of the decade" is expected to whip up large and dangerous surf along the Bay Area's coastline Thursday through Saturday, CBS San Francisco reports.

A west-northwest swell generated by a storm system in the Gulf of Alaska is expected to arrive by Tuesday as an area of low pressure develops 400 miles west of San Francisco Wednesday night.

Seas from the developing system will combine with the distant swell and build to 15-18 feet. Mavericks at Half Moon Bay is likely to see some of the largest waves reaching as high as 27 feet during high tide. Stinson Beach and Ocean Beach could see 11 to 18-foot waves.

High tide on Wednesday will be at 2 a.m. and 12:38 a.m., Thursday at 2:40 a.m. and 1:12 p.m., and Friday at 3:19 a.m. and 2:02 p.m.

The National Weather Service issued a high wind and flash flood warning in preparation for the storm.

The Associated Press reports that authorities are warning motorists to avoid driving through standing water; stay clear of outside roadway lanes, especially at night; keep headlights on at all times; and drive slowly to prevent hydroplaning.

The Bay Area can also expect strong winds that could uproot trees, down power lines and cause flooding and mudslides.

Weather service officials are predicting strong winds will begin late Wednesday and last through Thursday night. Winds are expected to reach 20 to 35 mph from the south with gusts of up to 50 mph expected along the coast and mountain ridges.

The North Bay and the Santa Cruz Mountains can expect the heaviest rainfall with 2.5-5.5 inches of rain likely.

The immediate area surrounding San Francisco Bay can expect 1.5 to 3 inches of rain. Inland areas and the Monterey Bay area can expect 1 to 2 inches of rain, with the Santa Lucia Mountains expecting 2 to 4 inches.