Storm clouds gather over the Santa Barbara Harbor Wednesday morning. Credit: Ray Ford / Noozhawk photo

With this week’s rainstorm, “significant flash flooding and debris flows are possible, especially in and below the Alisal burn scar,” the National Weather Service said when issuing a Flood Watch Tuesday.

Flooding caused by excessive rainfall is possible throughout Santa Barbara County from late Wednesday afternoon through Thursday morning, according to the NWS Los Angeles forecast office:

“Excessive runoff may result in flooding of creeks, streams, and urban areas. While the risk of main stem river flooding is low, water flowing through normally dry rivers may be a threat to some homeless communities.”

Santa Barbara County is expected to get a lot of rain in the next few days, and the Santa Ynez Mountains and foothill areas could see rainfall rates up to 1 inch per hour, the NWS said Tuesday.

“Those living in areas prone to flooding should be prepared to take action should flooding develop.”

The October 2021 Alisal Fire burned 16,970 acres in Refugio Canyon and along the Gaviota Coast.

County officials issued evacuation orders for Refugio Road and nearby areas ahead of 2021-22 winter storms due to concerns about post-fire flooding and debris flows, but no warnings or orders had been announced for this week’s storm as of Tuesday afternoon.

The Santa Barbara County Office of Emergency Management sent out an advisory message to South Coast residents Tuesday night.

The heaviest rainfall expected on South Coast including the Alisal Fire burn scar, Thomas Fire burn scar and Cave Fire burn scar, and the most significant rainfall is forecast for 10 p.m. Wednesday to 10 a.m. Thursday.

“If you live in the Alisal, Cave or Thomas burn area and are concerned that this storm may cause unsafe conditions to your home, leave the area before rain starts. Do not wait for an official evacuation notification to leave,” county officials said in a statement.

“If you feel unsafe during the rainfall, shelter in place in your home by gathering your
family and pets in the inner most room of your house, preferably on the top floor if you live in a multi-story home. Do not attempt to drive at night or while it is raining, as roads may be damaged and your car may be swept away by moving water or debris.”

The Montecito Fire Protection District urged residents to check the storm impact consideration map, which shows areas at highest risk of flooding and debris flows in red, ahead of the storm.

“If your property falls within the red shading, you should have a plan to evacuate,” fire department spokeswoman Christina Favuzzi said Tuesday.

A screenshot of the county’s storm impact consideration map for the Montecito area with ‘storm impact zones’ in red.

The post-Thomas Fire storm impact map was updated in December 2021 to show Montecito and Carpinteria communities considered at risk of flooding or debris flow events.

It was created after the Jan. 9, 2018, post-fire debris flows that killed 23 people and damaged hundreds of homes in Montecito.

Local fire departments will have extra staff on duty for the storm, Favuzzi said.

Community members are urged to “monitor the weather, plan how to get out and where you might go, and prepare and protect your home,” the fire district said.

“The Weather Advisory has been issued in light of the recent storms that have produced 8-13 inches of rain in the last 30 days, plus the forecast incoming storm that may produce 4-8+ inches of rain across Montecito and the Thomas Fire burn scar. 

“Thus far, the local watershed and flood control systems have been able to handle the runoff properly and are prepared to manage the incoming rain. However, it remains imperative for community members to be monitor the weather closely and be prepared for changing conditions that may require evacuation,” the district said in a statement Tuesday.

A National Weather Service graphic shows the forecast for an early January storm's rainfall timing and intensity.
A National Weather Service graphic shows the forecast for an early January storm’s rainfall timing and intensity. Credit: National Weather Service photo

The National Weather Service issues advisories, watches and warnings (increasing in severity) which can be viewed on its website here. Its weather and hazards map is here.

The Santa Barbara County Office of Emergency Management has interactive maps showing FEMA flood map areas, and the Public Works Department has additional flood information here.

You can sign up for emergency alerts from OEM here.

Find a list of sandbag-filling locations here.

Read the county’s storm readiness page here.

A National Weather Service graphic shows the forecast for rainfall totals from this week's storm.
A National Weather Service graphic shows the forecast for rainfall totals from this week’s storm. Credit: National Weather Service

“An atmospheric river pushing through the region Wednesday night into Thursday morning with support periods of heavy rainfall with rates up to around an inch per hour, prompting concern for flooding and flash flooding across the region. Rainfall totals of 2-4 inches will be common with 4-8 inches expected in the mountains, highest across the Santa Lucia mountains and Santa Ynez mountains east into south-facing interior Santa Barbara mountains,” the NWS said Tuesday.

This much rain will boost local reservoir levels, according to County Public Works.

The NWS also issued advisories of high surf expected countywide, and mariners warnings for high winds.

A High Surf Advisory is in effect through 4 a.m. Thursday for west-facing beaches in North County.

Large breaking waves of 8-12 feet with dangerous rip current are expected, and there is an increased risk for ocean drowning, the NWS said in its advisory.

“Even larger surf near Warning levels is expected Thursday into Friday. Surf will build to 15-18 feet, with possible sets up to 23 feet,” the NWS said Tuesday. “This large surf may result in minor coastal flooding, especially late Thursday and Friday.”

Surf heights of 6-10 feet on the South Coast are expected, according to the NWS.

“Remain out of the water due to dangerous surf conditions, or stay near occupied lifeguard towers. Rock jetties can be deadly in such conditions, stay off the rocks.”

A National Weather Service graphic shows the winds forecast.
A National Weather Service graphic shows the winds forecast. Credit: National Weather Service
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Giana Magnoli, Noozhawk Managing Editor

Noozhawk managing editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at