Tuesday, April 24 , 2018, 10:19 pm | Overcast 54º


Local News

Storm May Have Set Stage for Refilling Local Reservoirs

Officials say more rain is needed before Lake Cachuma will see significant rise in its level

[Click here for more images from Santa Barbara County's storm damage.]

Thursday night's storm was touted beforehand — some might say hyped — as a major event in recent weather history.

It was a significant weather system, for sure, sucking in sub-tropical "Pineapple Express" moist air from the Pacific that led to some impressive rainfall.

But as it turned out, the storm was not that different from many that douse the Central Coast during a normal rainy season.

Rainfall amounts were healthy, ranging from just under an inch in Cuyama to more than 5 inches atop San Marcos Pass, according to the Santa Barbara County Public Works Department.

Most areas received between 1.5 and 3 inches.

So what does that mean for the ongoing drought?

"I think the main takeaway is we're getting some rain on the ground that we need to get some favorable conditions for future runoff," said Tom Fayram, Santa Barbara County's deputy director of water resources.

A rainbow brightens the sky over Santa Barbara on Friday, the day after a major storm pushed through the region. (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)

"We're getting the conditions set up to where we could get significant runoff if we get good storms in January and February," Fayram explained.

It takes between 10 and 15 inches "of rain on the ground" before the soil becomes saturated enough that subsequent storms create the kind of runoff needed to re-fill the county's depleted reservoirs, Fayram said.

After Thursday night's downpour, San Marcos Pass had received roughly 11 inches of precipitation since the rain season began Sept. 1. That puts it into the range of runoff generation.

A remarkable fact that Fayram pointed out from Thursday night's storm: At one point, between 10 and 11 p.m., San Marcos Pass received just over an inch of rain in only 10 minutes. And it got 2 inches in that hour.

"That's really pouring," he said.

There was enough rain on the upper Santa Ynez River watershed, which feeds into Lake Cachuma, to get the river flowing toward the reservoir, Fayram said.

"It may or may not make it (to the lake)," Fayram said, "but that intensity, with the 5 inches, is obviously enough to get the river flowing, and that's good news."

At least two boats broke loose from their mooring during the storm and ended up on East Beach in Santa Barbara. (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)

With another storm expected to sweep through the region on Monday and Tuesday, other areas of the county may exceed that 10-inch threshold for creating runoff.

"Last year we were never in a place where we could even hope for runoff," Fayram said.

As crews across the county cleaned up the mess Friday, there were plenty of broken trees and branches, downed power lines and other problems, but nothing major.

In the city of Santa Barbara, workers were out in force, according to Rebecca Bjork, the city's public works director.

"We had flooding in underpasses that they cleared, silt and debris on the roads, particularly on the Mesa, and lots of palm fronds on Cabrillo (Boulevard)," she said.

One lane of Carpinteria Street was closed and will remain that way while the city investigates potential damage to a bridge.

Residents may also notice barriers have been put up across the city where power lines have come down, she said.

A backhoe covers up exposed pipes on East Beach in Santa Barbara. (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)

Rainfall totals also recorded some surprising numbers for the 24-hour period that ended at 6 p.m. Friday.

Downtown Santa Barbara received 2.25 inches of rain, Montecito measured 1.75, and Carpinteria recorded 1.48 inches.

Lompoc had just over 2 inches, and Santa Maria recorded 3.16 inches.

The rain didn't fall as heavily on more remote areas of the county, with the Cuyama and Bates Ridge stations both recording less than an inch of rain.

Cachuma Reservoir remained at only at 28.6 percent full, and more rainfall will need to occur before that level is likely to elevate at all, Fayram said.

Another storm system was expected to move through the county on Monday and Tuesday, with rain likely beginning after 10 a.m. on Monday.

Santa Maria particularly reported widespread damage, and its year-to-date rainfall totals are more than 200 percent of normal rainfall.

The city saw numerous downed trees, some into vehicles and residences; outages to thousands of people; and localized flooding, including that of City Fire Station No. 1 on Cook Street. 

City officials said the storm was the strongest that the region has experienced in several years. 

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper 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.

Workers remove a tree that toppled during the storm at the Santa Maria Cemetery. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

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