Two people and a dog died and one other suffered injuries in a two-car collision Thursday on Highway 101 south of Buellton.
A Honda Element traveling south on the 101 hydroplaned and crossed the center divide into northbound traffic. The Honda was struck by a Jeep Grand Cherokee that was traveling north on the highway, authorities said.
The driver of the Honda, described as a woman in her 50s, and a passenger in the Jeep, a man in his 70s, were pronounced dead at the scene – as was a dog who was in the Jeep. The driver of the Jeep, a woman in her 70s, suffered critical injuries and was airlifted via Cal Star helicopter.
According to the California Highway Patrol, traffic on the freeway was stopped for a time so that the CALSTAR rescue helicopter could make the rescue following the 12:26 p.m. collision at the bottom of the Nojoqui Grade to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital.
Two of the three northbound lanes remained closed into the afternoon due to the investigation, with all lanes reopened Thursday evening.
The incident was the most serious of numerous crashes that happened on a day of lightning, thunder, heavy rain and flooding across the region — a prelude to what’s expected when the next storm rolls in tonight and another powerful system hits on Saturday.
“It looks to be another potentially heavy rain event,” Frank Straip, senior Accuweather meteorologist, told the News-Press.
Rain was expected to begin around 5 p.m. today and continue into Saturday morning, the heaviest expected in the morning hours Saturday with showers continuing throughout the day.
Rainfall rates were expected to exceed the eight-tenths of an inch per hour threshold for debris flows for the Thomas Fire burn scar, which could prompt evacuation orders, Mr. Straip said.
Coastal areas are expected to receive one to two inches of rain through Saturday, with higher elevations receiving as much as five inches.
Showers may linger into the evening Saturday before another storm system moves through the area Sunday night into Monday.
That system is expected to be slightly colder with overnight lows in the 40s, but showers are not expected to be as heavy, Mr. Straip said.
Between a half-inch and an inch was expected for coastal areas, with up to two inches for local mountains. Snow levels are expected to drop as low as 4,000 feet Sunday night, producing a dusting of snow on local mountains.
More than two inches of rain fell at four reporting stations in Santa Barbara County, including Santa Barbara, before 9 a.m. Thursday, according to the National Weather Service. Ten others reported 1.38 to 1.91 inches for the same time period.
Cachuma and Twitchell dams respectively reported 1.42 and 1.06 inches.
Western Ventura County fared much better, Lake Casitas receiving eight-tenths of an inch and Oak View just under an inch.
Red Mountain, west of Foster Park, recorded 1.38 inches of rain.
A small mudslide happened near the Santa Barbara City College parking lot across from Leadbetter Beach, spilling onto the westbound lane of Shoreline Drive. Power lines and trees also fell at various locations.
The day began with an active thunder storm over the South Coast and Santa Barbara Channel.
A huge bolt of lightning struck a Southern California Edison transformer in the 5200 block of Foothill Road, causing an explosion that left some in the dark and brought out Carpinteria-Summerland firefighters.
The 7 a.m. incident included a concussive boom and blinding white light that seemed to hit directly over the heads of motorists on Highway 101.
Firefighters responded to the transformer explosion ended up finding another nearby that had been damaged.
Lightning also reportedly struck Rincon Island, the decommissioned oil facility off the Ventura County Coast, early Thursday.
Throughout the morning, heavy rain fell, prompting the National Weather Service to issue an urban and small stream flood advisory for the Thomas, Whittier and Sherpa fire burn areas, with rainfall rates between .30 and .70 inches per hour reported.
Minor and shallow mud and debris flows in the local burn scars were also expected, but significant damaging flows were not in the near-term forecast.
At the spot on East Beach where the 32-acre lake known as the Andrée Clark Bird Refuge spills into the Pacific Ocean, Chris Clark from the city’s creeks division waded through deep water to collect samples as part of a restoration project.
The lake is not the healthiest body of water and is known for foul odors at times. The strategy to help it along includes flushing the lake during storms, when fresh water drops in. Mr. Clark, no relation to the refuge namesake, said samples are collected before the gate at Cabrillo Boulevard is open and the water rushes out as well as after to see whether any harmful material is deposited in the ocean.
Rain and wind are expected to continue tonight, with the winds increasing to 15 to 20 mph, and gusts as high as 30 mph.
Rain, along with gusts to 35 mph are forecast for Saturday. Sand bags are available at a county facility on County Road, off Calle Real (limit 25) and at the city annex, 401 E. Yanonali St.
Rick Ornelas, manager of the city yard, told the News-Press that people seem better prepared for storms now than in the past. Before noon Thursday, he said, 10 people had come by to fill their allotment of 20 bags per vehicle.
But there had already been many more in the days leading up to this latest storm series.
Leticia Fierros was among those who came by on Thursday.
While there’s been no rain damage at her home, she said, “I need them because a lot of water comes in.”
Mitchell White contributed to this report