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Sunday, January 20 , 2019, 10:11 am | Fair 56º


Evacuation Orders Issued as Powerful Storm Takes Aim at Santa Barbara County

Much of Montecito, Carpinteria ordered to evacuate by noon Monday as forecasters say as much as 7 inches of rain possible in foothills and mountains

Residents fill sandbags in advance of a powerful storm expected to hit Santa Barbara County on Monday night and Tuesday. Mandatory evacuations have been ordered, effective at noon Monday, for areas below the Thomas and Whittier burn areas. Click to view larger
Residents fill sandbags in advance of a powerful storm expected to hit Santa Barbara County on Monday night and Tuesday. Mandatory evacuations have been ordered, effective at noon Monday, for areas below the Thomas and Whittier burn areas. (Santa Barbara County photo)

This story was last updated at 3:36 p.m. Monday

Mandatory evacuation orders have been issued for parts of Santa Barbara County — including much of Montecito and Carpinteria — as a powerful winter storm taking aim at the region appears to be coming in stronger than first expected.

Weather forecasters say heavy rainfall from the storm is almost certain to cause flash-flooding and debris flow in communities below recent burn areas.

The orders for areas below the Thomas, Whittier, Alamo and Sherpa fire burn zones were effective beginning at noon Monday.

Mandatory evacuations have been ordered north of Foothill Road/Highway 192 between Cold Spring Canyon in Montecito and Highway 150 in Carpinteria.

Also included in the order are the areas along Tecolote Canyon, Eagle Canyon, Dos Pueblos Canyon, Gato Canyon, El Capitan Canyon, Calle Ecuestre and Calle Quebrada west of Gato Canyon, and the Whittier burn areas near Goleta.

The American Red Cross has opened an evacuation center at the Santa Barbara City College cafeteria, 721 Cliff Drive. Evacuees can enter the campus through the East Campus kiosk and park in Lot 1B. 

Small animals are allowed at the SBCC evacuation center or can be taken to the Santa Barbara Humane Society at 5399 Overpass Road.

Large animals can be evacuated to Earl Warren Showgrounds, at 3400 Calle Real in Santa Barbara. Call the county Animal Services hotline at 805.681.4332 for help evacuating small and large animals, Santa Barbara County officials said. 

The county set up a hotline for public information about evacuation areas, storm updates and to coordinate evacuation transportation, at 805.681.5542.

Map shows mandatory evacuation areas and warning areas, effective at noon Monday. Click to view larger
Map shows mandatory evacuation areas and warning areas, effective at noon Monday.

A voluntary evacuation warning has been issued for all areas south of Foothill Road/Highway 192 to the ocean and east of Hot Springs Road/Olive Mill Road to Highway 150/the county line.

An evacuation warning was added Monday afternoon for parts of Tepusquet Canyon near the Alamo Fire burn area east of Santa Maria.

An estimated 7,000 people are under the mandatory evacuation orders, with another 23,300 given evacuation warnings.

Click here for an interactive map of evacuation areas.

The evacuation orders were issued Sunday night after the forecast was boosted, and now is calling for 4-6 inches of rain — and possibly as much as 7 inches — in the foothills and mountains above Santa Barbara, Montecito and Carpinteria, according to Kathie Hoxsie, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Oxnard.

Coastal areas are expected to received 2-4 inches of rain.

Similar amounts are expected in Ojai, Ventura, Santa Paula and other areas of western Ventura County.

Earlier forecasts had put the expected rainfall amounts in the foothills and mountains at 2-4 inches.

“It just looks like this is going to be a nasty rainstorm,” Hoxsie told Noozhawk. “At the very least we will get some flash-flooding out of the burn areas because the soils will not absorb the water. The bigger concern is that we will actually have earth coming down with it.”

A flash flood watch has been issued, effective from 4 p.m. Monday until 10 p.m. Tuesday for areas below the Thomas, Whittier, Alamo and Sherpa burn areas.

Rainfall rates of between a half-inch and an inch per hour are possible with the storm — and even more if thunderstorms develop with the weather system.

The period of greatest rainfall is expected to be from 7 p.m. Monday until 4 a.m. Tuesday, Hoxsie said.

In a normal year, a storm of this strength would provide a welcome boost to the area’s water supply.

But with much of the South Coast’s watershed destroyed by the Thomas and Whittier fires, there is the potential for damaging and dangerous flooding.

“Unfortunately, the storm seems to be putting a bulls-eye right on where the recent burn areas are,” Hoxsie said. “It’s like somebody saw the outlines of where the burn areas are and decided that would be a good place to get some increased rainfall.

“The highest intensity looks almost like the map of the Thomas Fire.”

Foothill areas of Montecito, between Cold Spring and Romero canyons, are of some of the greatest concern, “just because of the geology of the area and the series of alluvial fans,” according to Tom Fayram, deputy county public works director.

“Obviously, there is much to be concerned about,” Fayram told Noozhawk on Sunday night.

The county’s Emergency Operations Center was bustling Sunday, as officials prepared for what could be a major disaster.

“If the rain comes as predicted and the debris flow estimates are true, it’s probably going to be something we haven't seen before,” Fayram said.

Two CalFire strike teams are being mobilized to assist with the response, Fayram said, and heavy equipment is being readied.

North County public works crews also will be shifted south, he said.

Much of Ventura County, where the bulk of the 281,893-acre Thomas Fire burned, is also under the flash flood watch, and communities there were preparing for the deluge.

High winds are forecast along with the rain, with gusts of 60-70 mph possible, coinciding with the heaviest periods of rainfall, Hoxsie said.

Snow is also likely with the storm, Hoxsie said, with snow levels starting out at 8,000 feet and eventually dropping to about 4,000 feet.

Interstate 5 over the Grapevine north of Los Angeles is likely to be affected by snow, Hoxsie said, which would put more traffic on Highway 101 through Santa Barbara and Ventura counties.

Highway 101 also could be affected, as most of the hillsides along the Rincon south of Carpinteria were denuded by the Thomas Fire, and therefore are susceptible to flash-flooding and mud and debris flows.

Sandbags are available at locations throughout the county. Click here for more information.

A community meeting about the increased risk of debris and mud flows due to the Thomas Fire burn area, planned for 5 p.m. Monday at the County Administration Building, has been cancelled.

By Tuesday afternoon, the storm should be moving out of the county, and skies are expected to be clear by Wednesday.

Sunny skies are forecasted through the weekend, with highs in the mid-70s and near 80 in some locations.

Residents are encouraged to sign up for alerts from the Aware & Prepare program, and to heed all evacuation orders and warnings.

» Click here for Santa Barbara County’s interactive map of possible flooding areas.

» Click here for the latest weather forecast.

» Click here for real-time rainfall amounts.

» Click here for road closures in Santa Barbara County.

» Click here to sign up for Noozhawk’s free breaking news text alerts to your cell phone.

Noozhawk executive editor Tom Bolton can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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