Northern Santa Barbara County holds its breath as bomb cyclone nears Central Coast
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Northern Santa Barbara County holds its breath as bomb cyclone nears Central Coast

May 29, 2024

County Reporter/Associate Editor

Northern Santa Barbara County seemed to be holding its breath Wednesday, waiting for the “bomb cyclone” weather forecasters predicted will hit the area with high winds, heavy rain and the potential for debris flows and flooding overnight.

After a spate of gusty winds in the morning and some moderate rain in the early afternoon, traffic was relatively light as people seemed to be hunkering down at home waiting for the intense storm to strike, although some stores reported the demand was higher than usual for things like batteries and bottled water.

Although the entire county is under threat from the storm, the South Coast was expected to bear the brunt of the system, along with south-facing mountain slopes and beaches.

At a press conference late Wednesday afternoon, Santa Barbara County and Montecito officials announced mandatory evacuations were in effect for specific neighborhoods below the areas burned by the Alisal, Cave and Thomas wildfires.

County Sheriff Bill Brown said the National Weather Service had issued a flash flood watch for the entire county, adding forecasters could raise that to a flood warning that might come anywhere from an hour or two to as little as a few minutes before an event.

“The watershed in our county is in a saturated condition right now,” Brown said, meaning the soil is so saturated it wouldn’t be able to absorb the volume of rain expected from the storm, resulting in flooding and debris flows.

Brown said the National Weather Service was predicting the county could receive 4 to 8 inches of rain within 24 hours, with some isolated areas possibly inundated by as much as 10 inches.

The bulk of the rainfall was expected between 10 p.m. Wednesday and 5 a.m. Thursday, with the most intense rain — and greatest threat of flooding — hitting between midnight and 3 a.m.

In addition, winds from 50 to 60 mph were forecast for Wednesday night, which he said could cause more trees and powerlines to go down because of the saturated ground.

County Fire Chief Mark Hartwig said emergency services from all jurisdictions were on alert for the storm.

“We train for this,” Hartwig said. “Unfortunately, we have a lot of experience assisting each other.”

He said the county’s Type 3 Incident Management Team would be activated Wednesday night, and the California Office of Emergency Services had provided additional funding to staff equipment from Carpinteria to Santa Maria.

California Highway Patrol Capt. Mike Logie said the CHP, Caltrans and county road crews were monitoring the roadways and would notify the public as soon as possible if roads had to be closed, but he warned motorists to use extreme caution while driving.

“This is a significant storm,” Logie said. “If you do not have to travel and if you’re in a safe place, please stay put.”

A 40-mile stretch of Highway 1 south of Big Sur, which had been closed for weeks by rockslides, reopened Tuesday morning only to be closed again at 5 p.m. Wednesday in anticipation of the storm.

Los Padres National Forest officials warned those planning to visit forest lands over the next week to be prepared for possible snow-covered and slippery roads, rock slides, trail washouts, possible flash floods and other hazards.

An individual wearing a rain poncho pushes a cart down Grant Street during Wednesday's rain and wind storm.

Strong winds whip the palm trees at the Santa Maria Public Airport on Wednesday as the "bomb cyclone" approaches northern Santa Barbara County bearing as much as 4 inches of rain for most areas and as much as 10 inches for the mountains.

Beads of rainwater cling to red flowers in Santa Maria from a storm that rolled in Wednesday and was essentially gone by Thursday morning.

A teenager in a windbreaker carries a backpack as he runs to beat the rain Wednesday on Panther Drive in Santa Maria, which forecasters predicted would not be hit as hard by the approaching "bomb cyclone" as the South Coast areas, where residents below burn scars were under mandatory evacuation orders.

A DC-10 aerial firefighting tanker sits on the tarmac at the Santa Maria Public Airport Wednesday as strong winds bring significant rain to Santa Barbara County.

Riders wait for a Santa Maria Regional Transit bus Wednesday on McCoy Lane in Santa Maria as rain heralds the approach of of a "bomb cyclone" forecast to hit the Central Coast that night.

Cars make a splash as they drive down Donovan Road, which flooded from heavy rain, Wednesday night in Santa Maria.

Heavy rain pours down on the nearly deserted Conserv Fuel gas station at the corner of Stowell and Bradley roads in Santa Maria on Wednesday night.

The Santa Maria River was left partially wet Thursday morning after heavy rain Wednesday night.

The Santa Maria River was left with large puddles but no flow Thursday morning after heavy rain rolled in Wednesday night.

Clouds start to clear Thursday morning in Santa Maria after significant rain and gusty winds rolled through Wednesday night.

Costco in Santa Maria sold out of Kirkland Signature Purified Drinking Water as residents prepared for possible power outages from the "bomb cyclone" storm that rolled in Wednesday night.

County Reporter/Associate Editor

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