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Winter Storm Triggers White-Out Blizzard Conditions In Sierra

TRUCKEE (CBS SF) -- A potent winter storm front created havoc with the mourning commute in the San Francisco Bay Area, roared into the Sierra Thursday afternoon, dumping several feet of snow and forcing officials to shut down busy Highway 80 near Colfax.

The National Weather Service in Reno warned of "dangerous and potentially life threatening blizzard conditions" in the Lake Tahoe area. Winter weather, blizzard and avalanche warnings have been issued for the region until 4 a.m. Friday.

At 1 p.m., the California Highway Patrol said eastbound I-80 traffic was being turned at Alta while westbound traffic was being turned in Truckee.

Forecasters were predicting 2-6 feet of snow above 7,000 feet and 1-3 feet at the lower elevations by the time the storm front moves out of California early Saturday.

"This is a life threatening situation," the weather service warned. "Do not attempt to travel! Road crews and first responders may not be able to rescue you."

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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