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Winter Storm Turns Morning Commute Into Travel Nightmare

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- A winter storm front battered the San Francisco Bay Area Thursday morning, turning the morning commute into a nightmare and forcing flight cancellations and delays of nearly five hours at San Francisco International.

The stormy weather was predicted to remain in the area until Saturday morning with a low front spinning off the California coast sending in waves of heavy rain and strong winds.

San Francisco International Airport officials said gusty winds had forced 80 flights to be cancelled at SFO early Thursday with the FAA reporting arrival delays of nearly five hours.

Meanwhile, commuters also were finding their way to work filled with challenges. Gusty winds on local bridges slowed traffic into San Francisco. It was taking more than an hour to travel from the Carquinez Bridge to the San Francisco exits.

Crashes on the slick roadways were also an issue. Fender-benders turned the traffic maps red with slow and delayed traffic.

On northbound Interstate Highway 680 south of Bernal Avenue in Pleasanton, at least two lanes were blocked for several hours by an overturned produce truck. A Sig-alert was issued at 5:41 a.m. and the accident was cleared just before 9 a.m.

All southbound lanes of Interstate Highway 880 just south of Seventh Street in Oakland were blocked for several hours early Thursday by a 1:40 a.m. collision involving four vehicles, including a big-rig that jackknifed. The freeway was reopened shortly after 4 a.m.

Across the Bay Area, the storm knocked out electricity to local residences. PG&E reported that nearly 1,200 customers were without power at 9 a.m. with the majority of those being in the South Bay.

The storm's most potent punch was aimed at Marin County where Kentfield already had over 3 inches of rain by 8:35 a.m. while San Rafael had 1.38 inches and Point Reyes had 1.28 inches.

Elsewhere, crews in the areas burned by last fall's wine country wildfires were keeping on eye out for moving hillsides. Santa Rosa had already gotten 1.30 inches of rain by 8:30 a.m. while St. Helena had received 1.84 inches and Yountville had received 1.57 inches.

In the Sierra, snow began to fall just before sunrise as residents prepared for the strongest storm so far this winter.

The National Weather Service issued a winter storm warning and a blizzard warning for the Lake Tahoe area 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 afternoon 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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