Snow: Profoundly Shocking

I’ve occasionally wondered what would happen out here on the roads if it snowed. Really snowed, I mean, with snow on the streets down by the bayside and not just up on a distant peak where it’s striking but not quite real. Travel? Impossible in an area with hilly terrain and drivers who generally have no experience driving in truly wintry conditions.

So Friday night/early Saturday morning, it was cold here. In the mid-30s, say. Not so cold you’d expect a snowstorm, but cold enough that the forecast brought the possibility of snow down to the 500-foot level. The road that runs near the top of the Berkeley Hills, Grizzly Peak Boulevard, tops out at about 1,700 feet, and sure enough, when our neighbors Piero and Jill drove up there, they saw a little snow-like material along the road. But nothing dramatic. No, the dramatic stuff was over on the north side of the Golden Gate Bridge.

If you haven’t been there, the bridge on its north side is built at the foot of a mountain. The highway, U.S. 101, climbs up a grade to go through a tunnel blasted through the ridge. On the north side, the road descends very sharply — from just over 600 feet down to sea level in about a mile and three-quarters — close to a 7 percent grade. Last night, that’s where the snow happened, apparently very suddenly just before 2:30 in the morning. And here, as narrated by the Chronicle, is what occurred when traffic was added to the weather:

“San Francisco cabbie Mort Weinstein had picked up a fare at Fisherman’s Wharf and was headed to Marin City early Saturday when he emerged from the Waldo Tunnel on Highway 101 to find himself in a freak blizzard.

“Slushy snow coated a hillside illuminated by the taillights of panicked drivers careering out of control. Weinstein hit the brakes, but there was nothing he could do.

” ‘There were four to five cars already colliding with each other,’ Weinstein, 51, recalled. ‘My car wheels locked. I started to slide. The front of the car careened off the rear of another car. It was such a profoundly shocking event. Nothing like this has ever happened here.’ ”

Twenty-eight cars piled up. Two people were killed and a dozen injured. The road was closed for 11 hours while the wreckage was cleared.

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