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Mandatory Evacuations Ordered Ahead of Strong Winter Storm in Santa Barbara County

Heavy rainfall from Tuesday night through Thursday night could cause debris flows and flash flooding

Santa Barbara County officials announced mandatory evacuations Monday in advance of a strong winter storm that is expected to have intense rainfall and could cause debris flows below recent burn areas. Click to view larger
Santa Barbara County officials announced mandatory evacuations Monday in advance of a strong winter storm that is expected to have intense rainfall and could cause debris flows below recent burn areas.  (Tom Bolton / Noozhawk photo)

Mandatory evacuation orders were issued Monday ahead of a powerful storm that the National Weather Service predicts will bring heavy rainfall that could trigger debris flows in recent burn areas, including Santa Barbara County's South Coast and western Ventura County. 

The evacuation order issued by the county Sheriff's Department is effective at noon Tuesday for "individuals in all risk levels" near the Thomas, Sherpa and Whittier fire burn areas.

All people are directed to be out of those areas by 5 p.m., Sheriff Bill Brown said at a press conference Monday afternoon.

"This storm is not the storm to question," Rob Lewin, director of the county's Office of Emergency Services, stressed. "This is a legitimate, hard-coming storm that has the potential to cause destruction. It has the potential to take lives, and you need to heed the evacuation orders.

"I’m telling you that those mountains are locked and loaded with debris, and that debris is ready to be mobilized and brought down that mountain."

The county also issued a "recommended evacuation warning" for people in the Alamo Fire burn area. 

Click here for a map of the evacuation zones and here for a map of debris flow risk areas in Santa Barbara County. 

"Updated meteorological models by the National Weather Service indicate that there is potential for rainfall intensity of between 0.50-inches to 0.75-inches per hour, which could trigger debris flows at any time during the storm. In addition, the storm is expected to bring between 5 and 10 inches of rain in the foothills and mountains, significantly more total rainfall than the 1/9 Debris Flow, which brought between 3 and 6 inches to the region," the county said when announcing the evacuation orders. 

The Red Cross will open evacuation centers at Earl Warren Showgrounds, 3400 Calle Real, in Santa Barbara, and at Ventura College, 4667 Telegraph Road, in Ventura at noon Tuesday. 

OEM officials have said the storm will be the most powerful one to hit the region since the deadly Jan. 9 debris flows in Montecito.

"This is likely going to be the strongest of the winter season that we’ve seen thus far," said Mark Jackson, meteorologist in charge at the National Weather Service Office in Oxnard. "What makes this storm a little unusual for March is the fact we have a tremendous amount of moisture coming out of the sub-tropics.

Santa Barbara County ordered mandatory evacuations for South Coast areas, in red, effective noon Tuesday, for a strong winter storm that is expected to drop heavy rain on the region. Click to view larger
Santa Barbara County ordered mandatory evacuations for South Coast areas, in red, effective noon Tuesday, for a strong winter storm that is expected to drop heavy rain on the region.  (Santa Barbara County photo)

"The key with this storm is the duration. We are expecting down to the coast 4 to 6 inches of rainfall up until Friday morning. As you go up into the mountains, because of the winds that are out of the southwest, it pushes that moisture up into the hills, and so we have the potential to receive upwards of 10 inches of rainfall up in the higher elevations, which would make this a very significant storm."

Computer models are predicting rainfall intensities of a half inch to three-quarters of an inch per hour, which would exceed the threshold at which dangerous debris flows are possible.

But Jackson noted that "there is that potential that we could have higher rainfall rates, on the order of an inch to an inch and a quarter per hour.

"So it could be a very dangerous storms. A very long-lasting storm."

The NWS issued a Flash Flood Watch, effective from 5 p.m. Tuesday until 5 p.m. Thursday, for recent burn areas.  

"Peak rainfall will move from north to south beginning in San Luis Obispo County on late Tuesday night into Wednesday, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties on late Wednesday into Thursday, and Los Angeles County on Thursday," forecasters said as of Monday afternoon.

A local incident management team will be activated Tuesday afternoon, according to Kevin Taylor, division chief of operations for the Montecito Fire Protection District.

All area fire departments will be mobilized and up-staffed, Taylor said, and the local search-and-rescue task force will be activated and staged in advance of the storm.

Early Wednesday, outside help will be called in, ahead of the heaviest precipitation, including 10 California National Guard high-water vehicles and two state Office of Emergency Services water-rescue teams, Taylor said.

The Carpinteria Unified School District will close all of its campuses Tuesday and Wednesday, while other South Coast schools plan to be open or relocate for Tuesday, said Susan Salcido, county superintendent of schools. 

The Santa Barbara Humane Society at 5399 Overpass Road will be open for additional hours Monday and Tuesday, starting at 8 a.m., so evacuees can board their dogs and cats. Owners are asked to bring vaccination records or be ready to call their pets' veterinarian for verbal confirmation. The Humane Society can be reached at 805.964.4777.

Other small animals can be taken to the Santa Barbara County Animal Services shelter at 5473 Overpass Road, and large animals can be taken to the Earl Warren Showgrounds at 3400 Calle Real in Santa Barbara.

The Animal Services hotline for assistance evacuating large and small animals is 805.681.4332.

Visit Santa Barbara released a list of hotels offering special rates for evacuees here.

» Click here for the latest National Weather Service forecast.

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

» Click here for the Ready Santa Barbara County website.

» Click here to sign up for emergency notifications from the Santa Barbara County Aware & Prepare program.

» Click here for Ventura County evacuation orders and emergency information.

Noozhawk Executive Editor Tom Bolton contributed to this report.

Noozhawk managing editor Giana Magnoli 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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