Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Montecito ordered to evacuate as intense storm brings flood fears to Southern California

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Montecito was ordered to evacuate Monday afternoon as a winter storm brought heavy rains, damaging winds and threats of flooding to the already soaked region.

Parts of Santa Barbara and the nearby communities of Carpinteria and Summerland were also ordered to evacuate “due to threats to life safety caused by the ongoing storm,” according to the Montecito Fire Protection District.

The order comes five years to the day after storm-induced mudslides ravaged Montecito, killing 23 people, destroying 130 homes and causing hundreds of millions of dollars in damage.

“In less than 12 hours we’ve received more than 8 inches of rain, with 7 to 8 inches still forecast to fall. And the watershed is behaving unpredictably,” Montecito Fire Chief Kevin Taylor said during a briefing shortly after noon.

The evacuation in Montecito is largely due to the types of hazards that can come with steep terrain and wildfire burn scars, said Michael Anderson, state climatologist at the California Department of Water Resources.

“When you get heavy rain waves like this, it makes the land more prone to landslides and debris flow,” he said. “And to make sure that we don’t repeat the incidents after the Thomas fire, they wanted to evacuate people from that area.”

In addition to Montecito, the evacuation order applies to residents of Toro Canyon, Padaro Lane from Via Real to Santa Claus Lane and Sycamore Canyon, and all campgrounds from Rincon Beach to Gaviota Beach.

“If you are in a position to house friends or family, please extend an invitation to shelter,” Santa Barbara County officials wrote on Facebook.

In Santa Barbara County, the California Department of Transportation on Monday afternoon said the northbound 101 Freeway was shut down just west of Carpinteria, and in Montecito, due to flooding. In San Luis Obispo County, the southbound 101 was closed at Santa Rosa Road in Atascadero.

Another evacuation order was issued about 2 p.m. for the Serena Park area due to flooding. Cal Poly San Luis Obispo said it was evacuating its agriculture facilities, including the Cal Poly Creamery, amid concerns about the Shepard Reservoir needing to release floodwaters.

“We are working to evacuate animals that may be impacted,” the campus said.

The campus core is not affected by the evacuation.

An evacuation shelter has been established at Santa Barbara City College’s Wake Campus, at 300 N. Turnpike Road in Santa Barbara.

Flash flood warnings went into effect for much of Santa Barbara County, central San Luis Obispo County and west-central Ventura County on Monday until 4:45 p.m. Residents were told to shelter in place.

“This is not a day to be out doing anything if you don’t have to,” said Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown.

The storm is causing flooding and mudslides across the county, he said. Images shared on the National Weather Service Los Angeles Twitter profile showed a completely flooded Refugio Road in the Alisal burn scar area in southwest Santa Barbara County.

The Santa Barbara County Fire Department said at a news conference Monday that various agencies had stepped up staffing and activated rescue patrols in anticipation of heavy rains Monday evening. Mark Hartwig, Santa Barbara County fire chief, reported downed power lines, trees and at least one rescue in the Refugio canyon area.

Authorities in San Luis Obispo County received calls of fallen trees and rock and mudslides on several roads, the Public Works Department said in a tweet Monday.

In Ventura, an evacuation order is in effect for the Ventura Beach RV Resort through Tuesday evening, officials said. The Ventura River is at risk of flooding.

Much of southwestern California was under watches and warnings for floods, high wind and high surf, according to the National Weather Service, with many of the advisories stretching into Tuesday.

“This [storm] will be quite strong, very energetic, delivering a lot of rain plus strong, gusty winds,” said David Sweet, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Oxnard.

The storm is the latest in a series of atmospheric rivers lashing the Golden State. The most significant impact is in Northern California, prompting concerns over flooding and hazardous winds. Late Sunday, President Biden approved an emergency declaration for the state.

But the stream of atmospheric rivers, or warm plumes of airborne moisture from the Pacific Ocean, is expected to bring two waves of intense rain to Southern California through Tuesday evening, weather experts said. The National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center warned of marginal risk of isolated strong to severe thunderstorms late Monday into Tuesday. The center also warned of the possibility of brief tornadoes.

Another storm is likely this weekend, forecasters say.

Light to moderate rain moved into Southern California early Monday, with hourly rainfall rates of a quarter to three-quarters of an inch, according to the National Weather Service in Oxnard.

The storm is predicted to pick up in intensity before tapering off Tuesday evening. Rainfall amounts in Los Angeles County are expected to reach 2 to 4 inches along the coast and in coastal valleys and 4 to 8 inches in the foothills and mountains, especially south-facing slopes.

Wind gusts could top 60 mph at the coast and 70 mph in the mountains. Snow will likely remain above 7,500 feet.

A high wind warning is in effect for San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties until 10 p.m. Monday and in the Los Angeles County mountains and the Antelope Valley until 7 p.m. Tuesday. A wind advisory went into effect Monday at noon until 10 p.m. for portions of southwest California, including the Catalina and Santa Barbara Islands and Ventura and Los Angeles counties.

High surf advisories are in effect through 4 p.m. Tuesday for the beaches of Ventura, San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties, with dangerous rip tides and waves reaching 12 feet in some areas.

Urban and small-stream flooding is likely, Sweet said.

In unincorporated L.A. County, evacuation warnings were issued from 6 p.m. Monday through 8 p.m. Tuesday near the are of the Lake fire and the north end of the Bobcat fire burn scars because of the possibility of mud or debris flows, according to county officials. The warning included parts of the communities of Lake Hughes and Kings Canyon: near the 20000 block of Pine Canyon Road; the 18000 block of Ellstree Drive; the 46000 block of Kings Canyon Road; the 1800 block of Newvale Drive; and the 43000 block of Lake Hughes Road. The warning for the Bobcat fire burn area includes, at the north end, the Juniper Hills and Valyermo areas along the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains.

L.A. County Public Works issued a Phase 2 mudflow forecast for the Fish fire area near Duarte from Monday evening to Tuesday at 8 p.m.

The Los Angeles Department of Transportation closed Mulholland Drive between Laurel Canyon Boulevard and Coldwater Canyon Drive in anticipation of the storm, officials announced Sunday.

Rain and strong winds were spreading into Orange and southwestern San Bernardino counties Monday, along with gusty south-to-southeast winds. Parts of Orange, San Bernardino and Riverside counties were under a flood watch through Tuesday evening, and a wind advisory that took effect at 4 p.m. Monday extends until 4 p.m. Tuesday in the inland and coastal areas of Orange County, according to the National Weather Service in San Diego.

Monday’s storm comes on the heels of a series of weather systems last week in California that pummeled coastal communities and left more than 400,000 without power on Sunday.

The atmospheric river is essentially “draped along the Central Coast,” slamming the area from Monterey County into Santa Barbara County with the heaviest rainfall, with some downpours extending northeast and southwest, Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA, said.

“This is just the middle of what has already been a very wet and active pattern — and what is expected to be one, really, for at least another week or so,” Swain said.

Times staff writers Hayley Smith and Rong-Gong Lin II contributed to this report.

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