Tuesday, April 24 , 2018, 11:40 pm | Overcast 54º


Local News

Weekend Storm Caps Off Wet January with Flooding, Mudslides, Power Outages

Evacuation warning lifted for coastal canyons as dark clouds expected to give way to sunny weather

A rainbow forms above Lake Los Carneros in Goleta Monday after a stormy weekend. Click to view larger
A rainbow forms above Lake Los Carneros in Goleta Monday after a stormy weekend. (Sam Goldman / Noozhawk photo)

What was billed as the strongest storm to hit Santa Barbara County in several years did not quite live up to expectations, but it still left the county drenched.

As of Monday afternoon, the previous 48 hours had dropped 1.9 inches of rain on Santa Barbara and Goleta, 1.5 inches on Carpinteria and 0.7 inches in Santa Maria, according to the county Public Works Department.

Lompoc saw 1.3 inches of precipitation, Guadalupe had 0.6 inches and the Santa Ynez Valley received around 1.5 inches.

The most rain was recorded in the mountains between the South Coast and the Rey Fire burn area, which saw more than 3 inches in some spots.

“It was actually pretty strong overall,” said Stuart Seto, a weather specialist with the National Weather Service in Oxnard.

Seto said quick-moving thunderstorms were still possible into the evening Monday.

“With these thunderstorms, some of them can be pretty intense with rainfall,” he warned.

Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency Monday for most California counties, including Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and Ventura. The move clears the way for state and federal aid for recovery from storm impacts and Brown also directed Caltrans to request assistance through the Federal Highway Administration's Emergency Relief Program.  

A chance of showers was forecast for Monday night and Tuesday, before giving way to sunny weather the rest of the week. Highs were projected to be in the mid- to high 50s, with lows in the mid- to low 40s.

Water flows down San Jose Creek in Goleta Monday afternoon. Click to view larger
Water flows down San Jose Creek in Goleta Monday afternoon.  (Sam Goldman / Noozhawk photo)

December and January’s line-up of storms has meant the entire county has above-average rainfall for the current water year. According to the county, Santa Maria and Lompoc are currently near 200 percent of normal rainfall. 

Santa Barbara County water agency manager Fray Crease said that Lake Cachuma's water level rose 5 feet over the last week. The reservoir was so low before the recent storms that it was only being fed by imported State Water Project and purchased water.

“It’s certainly exciting to see meaningful rainfall and run-off into the lakes…but we still have a long way to go,” she said.

At about 1 a.m. Tuesday, Gibraltar Reservoir was essentially full, and had reached spill level, an event that Santa Barbara water resources manager Joshua Haggwark said he had hoped would happen this week and expected to happen by the end of winter.

Even though the reservoir was full, recent storms washed into it a considerable amount of debris from the Rey Fire burn area, he said, which changed the chemistry of the runoff into the reservoir. 

Haggmark said a spill-over would not change the status of water supplies much given that the city doesn't have the means yet to turn muddied Gibraltar water into potable water. Though desalination is expected to start in the coming months, the city's groundwater supplies — at historically low levels — could take a decade to replenish.

“At this time, there's reason to be optimistic, but there's no reason to let down our guard.”

Conservation, he said, is still imperative.

An added benefit now that Gibraltar has started to spill is it doubles or triples the watershed feeding into Lake Cachuma, which means future storms would fill that downstream reservoir more quickly.

Crease said that forecasters don’t yet know how the rest of the winter will play out, but if the rain stops here, the county as a whole will soon see itself back at square one in terms of water supply.

Early Monday morning, a funnel cloud was spotted over Lompoc. No notable wind damage was reported, according to the NWS, though hail of up to half an inch landed on nearby roads, causing two vehicles to slide off Santa Lucia Canyon Road.

Though the county didn’t quite receive the pummeling it was bracing for, Sunday’s storm caused fallen trees and power outages throughout the county, with some residents still dealing with the impacts on Monday.  

Three repair outages in Santa Barbara affecting around 650 were expected to be fixed throughout the afternoon, according to Southern California Edison’s Outage Map.

At the same time, Pacific Gas & Electric was looking into power outages affecting dozens of North County residents, mostly around Santa Maria.

A handful of other customers were also affected by outages around Vandenberg Village and the Santa Ynez Valley, according to PG&E’s Outage Map.

Early Sunday morning, all of Lompoc lost power for 20 seconds due to the day's storm, said city spokeswoman Samantha Scroggin.

Local news station KEYT’s broadcast signal, powered by PG&E, was also out in the county for much of Monday after the station reported a landslide took out utility lines. 

A flash flood watch was in effect countywide through 6 p.m. Monday and a high surf advisory was in effect through Tuesday night. 

The county also issued an evacuation warning for the Sherpa Fire burn area through 6 p.m. Monday, which included El Capitan Canyon, El Capitan Ranch, El Capitán and Refugio state beaches, Refugio Canyon, Cañada Venadito Canyon, Cañada del Coral Canyon and Las Flores Canyon.

As many as 20 people were displaced from their bluff-top Isla Vista apartments Sunday evening after a section of the cliff in the 6600 block of Del Playa Drive gave way, taking part of an overhanging deck with it.

No one was on the cantilevered patio at the time of the collapse, and no injuries were reported, fire Capt. Dave Zaniboni said.

In Santa Barbara’s San Roque neighborhood on Sunday, police and firefighters responded to Stevens Park after two boys were reported missing. The boys, ages 9 and 8, were found safe after a search, with their parents assisting authorities.

Fallen power lines also left nearly half a mile of Sycamore Canyon Road closed into Monday between Coyote Road and Chelham Way, according to Caltrans.

“Santa Barbara County has fared very well this storm season” in terms of road incidents, spokesman Jim Shivers said.

El Capitan, Refugio and other creeks in canyons along the Gaviota coast were running strong, and crews were out trying to keep the heavy debris flows from causing backups and other problems.

The most intense result of the recent trio of storms happened on Friday, when a flash flood heavily damaged the El Capitan Canyon camping resort west of Goleta — destroying five cabins, severely damaging many others and wrecking nearly two dozen vehicles.

Noozhawk staff writer Sam Goldman 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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