Intense winds accompanying a powerful thunderstorm slammed Santa Barbara County’s South Coast on Sunday afternoon, swamping numerous boats and watercraft in the Santa Barbara Harbor and dumping dozens of people in the water.
The sudden squall splintered and knocked down trees throughout the area and sent large patio umbrellas flying through the air at Arroyo Burro Beach Park.
Harbor Patrol Officer Ryan Kelly was on routine patrol in a 33-foot boat just outside the harbor entrance at about 2:40 p.m. when the storm unleashed its fury.
“We saw the rain approaching, and there were probably about 10 seconds of rain mixed with hail,” he told Noozhawk. “Then the winds picked up and it got really gusty and spun the boat around. It was kind of like white-out conditions.
[Scroll down for storm video from Noozhawk reader Ian Cutler.]
“By the time we could see again, there were lots of people in the water — from stand-up paddle boards, to kayaks and sailboats.”
Kelly and his crew alone plucked 17 people from the water and returned them safely to shore, adding that only one minor injury was reported.
“We just basically went into rescue mode,” he said.
Volunteers in private vessels and on jet skis quickly assisted the Harbor Patrol and firefighters in getting people out of the water.
There were numerous reports of tree limbs and power lines down throughout Santa Barbara, and scattered power outages.
Lee Waldron, operations division chief for the Santa Barbara Fire Department, said his agency tallied nearly 40 calls for service in the immediate aftermath of the storm, most of them for downed trees and wires.
Heavy winds and rain were reported in parts of Goleta and Montecito, and train traffic was halted by numerous branches that had fallen on the railroad tracks.
A special marine warning was issued shortly before 3 p.m., alerting the public to a strong thunderstorm moving to the southeast from Goleta Point.
Shortly before 4 p.m., a flash flood warning was issued for some inland areas of the North County, as a band of very heavy showers and thunderstorms was moving through the region.
Forecasters warned the rainfall rates of an inch per hour were possible, along with dime-sized hail and gusty winds.
An evacuation warning was issued for the Alamo Fire burn area east of Santa Maria, but was lifted after 8 p.m.
The weather brought another record high temperature in Santa Maria on Sunday — 101 degrees — demolishing the old record for the date: 88 degrees, set in 2009, the weather service said.
A day earlier, the 106-degree high temperature in Santa Maria also set a record.
Kelly said he had never experienced anything like Sunday’s storm at the harbor.
“I actually thought it was a water spout when it stared blowing us around,” he said.
Kelly noted that the Sunday of Labor Day weekend is traditionally one of the busiest boating days of the year.
“It’s lucky there weren’t more serious injuries,” he said.
He added that some umbrellas and other items from the beach were flung about wildly by the winds, with some ending up blown outside the harbor breakwater. At least one of the breakwater’s flagpoles was snapped in two.
The hot, humid weather and thunderstorms were attributed to the remnants of Tropical Storm Lidia, which marched across Baja California over the last couple of days, according to Carol Smith, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Oxnard.
Monday’s Labor Day holiday and Tuesday were expected to be cooler, with highs along the coast in the upper 70s and 80s.
A slight warming trend is forecast for later in the week, with night and morning low clouds and fog returning.
Feeling lucky to be alive. Insane weather conditions in Santa Barbara, after a day with peak high temps of 104oF, we were hit with a very sudden downpour and gust of wind, that by best judgment, well exceeded 100 mph. Luckily the tree that fell in front of the distillery only brushed against me as it hit the ground. I was able to shelter a few people caught by the storm in the distillery, and needless to say a few shots of Whiskey followed.
Posted by Ian Cutler on Sunday, September 3, 2017