(UPDATED THURSDAY MORNING)
It’s not like they didn’t warn us.
The National Weather Service staff had forecast heavy rain, strong winds and high surf in Santa Barbara County, resulting from a “significant” storm poised to strike the area Wednesday and continue through today.
And they were right.
It started raining in Santa Barbara shortly before noon Wednesday, right on schedule.
“With the storm system that started today, we will see heavy rain overnight and into Thursday,” Lisa Phillips, a meteorologist with NWS Los Angeles/Oxnard, told the News-Press.
At times, the rain will fall at a rate of 1 inch per hour, and potentially up to 1.25 inches per hour, she said.
The NWS predicts 2 to 4 inches of rain will fall along the coast and valleys, and higher amounts in the south-facing west hills/mountains along the southern coast, from 4 to 8 inches and possibly up to 10 inches.
In fact, nearly 2 inches of rain fell in Santa Ynez and Lompoc, and almost a full inch of rain came down in Goleta. That happened during the 24-hour period ending at 4 this morning, according to the National Weather Service.
No major flooding problems were reported today in Santa Barbara County. But a rock slide led to State Route 154 being closed this morning between State Routes 246 and 192.
“We tend to see more rainfall there than in interior mountains and hills,” Ms. Phillips said.
Heavy rain is forecast for the Alisal, Thomas and Cave Fire burn areas. Visit readysbc.org for more information on this situation, including posted maps on the three burn scar areas that are adjacent to creeks. The three areas were under evacuation orders on Wednesday.
“It is imperative to understand the seriousness of the situation, and prepare to take actions to protect oneself, family, pets and any tenants, visitors and workers,” the Santa Barbara County Executive Office said.
The National Weather Service issued a flood watch, which started at 4 p.m. Wednesday and was scheduled to run through this morning.
A high wind warning was scheduled to be in effect until 6 this morning for most of Santa Barbara County. Southeast winds were expected to range from 25-40 mph, with gusts reaching as high as 60 mph, said Ms. Phillips of the National Weather Service.
This applies mostly to the mountains, she told the News-Press on Wednesday, but added that some coastal areas exposed to southerly winds could experience higher gusts as well.
The NWS also issued a high surf warning for portions of the Central Coast. Waves were predicted to reach 16-22 feet high, and some could reach 25 feet. Along the Santa Barbara coast, waves were expected to reach 8 to 12 feet high.
The storm, Ms. Phillips of the National Weather Service said, is “pretty intense,” noting that some of her colleagues are saying they haven’t seen one this powerful in the last five years.
“We already have ground that’s wet from recent rain, so there’s a concern for flooding,” she said.
“The mountains are susceptible to strong, gusty winds” that could knock down tree limbs and power lines, Ms. Phillips said. “It would not be a surprise to see a significant amount of power outages.”
She said the rain and wind mean hazardous driving conditions.
“It’s not a good time to be out,” she said, noting that urban flooding could spill over to roadways. “If you could stay home and avoid travel, that’s best.”
Capt. Scott Safechuck said the Santa Barbara County Fire Department did not respond Wednesday to any storm-related accident.
Sarah Clark, the city’s downtown plaza parking manager, said State Street had been spared serious flooding as of 5:30 p.m. Wednesday
“So far, so good,” she said. “We have a few areas with minor backups but staff is monitoring closely and will address any potential hazards.”
Sarah Aguilar, the county’s Animal Services director, said some people have dropped off cats at the county’s animal shelter in connection with the evacuation orders. And volunteers have stepped up to take 10 dogs for a night or two that are up for adoption or foster care to make room for dogs temporarily left by people who are evacuating.
“We’ll be here all night manning the disaster line and accepting pets,” she said. “We expect an increase when people get home from work and decide what to do.
“We’re hopeful that by Friday everyone will be back to normal.”
Santa Barbara County Environmental Health Services, meanwhile, is reminding residents about potential health risks associated with stormwater runoff at countywide beaches.
Stormwater is untreated rainwater that flows through the drain system into creeks, the ocean and other waterways. Contact with storm water while swimming or surfing may increase the risk for certain types of illnesses such as rashes, fever, chills, ear infections, vomiting and diarrhea.
To minimize potential health risks, it is recommended that people do not swim, play or surf in the ocean and creeks for at least three days following a rain event. Beachgoers should also avoid areas near the outfall from drain pipes and creeks that enter the ocean following a rain event as storm water runoff may carry high levels of bacteria and pollutants.