The intersection of Calle Real and Fairview Avenue in Goleta was shut down Thursday afternoon after it was flooded during heavy downpours.
The intersection of Calle Real and Fairview Avenue in Goleta was shut down Thursday afternoon after it was flooded during heavy downpours. (Ryan Cullom / Noozhawk photo)
  • The intersection of Calle Real and Fairview Avenue in Goleta was shut down Thursday afternoon after it was flooded during heavy downpours.
  • A clogged storm drain caused flooding Thursday on Calle Real at Plumas Avenue in Goleta. Santa Barbara County broke daily rainfall records Thursday at the Santa Barbara Airport and the Santa Maria Airport.
  • California State Parks Ranger Philip Hauck monitors Gaviota Creek Thursday, as it partially covers the road to Gaviota State Park and Hollister Ranch. Out of an abundance of caution, the park was evacuated prior to the storm and the road is closed. Forecaster say the South Coast should see moderate to heavy rainfall through Thursday afternoon.
  • Thursday’s storm floods a soccer field in Santa Maria
  • Montecito Creek stayed well within its banks during Thursday’s storm.
  • Highway 1 was closed due to flooding Thursday near Orcutt.
  • A boat washed up on East Beach in Santa Barbara during Thursday’s storm.
  • A drainage ditch full of water at an ag field in Santa Maria.
  • A vehicle makes it’s way along flooded Alisal Road in the Santa Ynez Valley.
  • Nojoqui Falls in the Santa Ynez Valley is flush with water on Thursday.

A winter storm unleashed heavy rainfall on southern Santa Barbara County on Thursday, causing roadway flooding and widespread weather-related advisories from the National Weather Service.

As of Thursday night, no evacuation warnings or orders were issued in Santa Barbara County.

A Flood Advisory was issued shortly after 1 p.m., warning of possible urban and small stream flooding throughout the South Coast. It expired at 7 p.m.

Most of Santa Barbara County saw between 1 and 3 inches of rain from the atmospheric river, with 3- to 5-inch amounts in the western Santa Ynez Valley, according to the NWS.

“The heaviest in the city of Santa Barbara is later this afternoon and later tonight,” Mike Wofford, a meteorologist with the NWS in Oxnard, said Thursday morning. “In Santa Maria, the heaviest is pretty much right now.”

The National Weather Service said rainfall rates were not expected to cause major debris flows in the recent Cave Fire or Thomas Fire burn areas, but that flash flood watches may be issued for burn areas in Los Angeles County. 

As of 9 p.m. Thursday, areas near the Cave Fire had received rainfall rates of more than 1 inch per hour, with three-hour totals nearing 2 inches. 

NWS radar map vcwatershed
High rainfall rates were recorded near the Cave Fire burn area Thursday afternoon, as radar showed a yellow band of heavy rain moving eastward through the area. (Screenshot via VC Watershed )

The 2019 Cave Fire burned 3,126 acres and areas at risk of post-fire debris flows and flooding include neighborhoods along creeks in the eastern Goleta Valley. County officials provided a storm-related risk map for the communities below the burn area, which can be viewed online by clicking here.

The 2017 Thomas Fire charred the hills above Montecito, Summerland and Carpinteria. Santa Barbara County updated its risk map for flooding and debris flows below the fire burn area. That can be viewed online by clicking here, and the county has more storm preparedness information available at readysbc.org/storm-ready/

A clogged storm drain caused flooding Thursday on Calle Real at Plumas Avenue in Goleta
A clogged storm drain caused flooding Thursday on Calle Real at Plumas Avenue in Goleta. (Ryan Cullom / Noozhawk photo)

“Generally, scientists tell us that a community is at risk for debris flow between three and seven years following a fire,” Montecito Fire Chief Kevin Taylor said in December, when introducing the latest update to the storm-related risk map. “Because we are only in the third year following the fire and fourth winter following the fire, we are still at risk. Just not as much risk as the previous three winters.”

This is the second winter following the November 2019 Cave Fire, which is why that area is also being closely monitored for flooding and debris flow risk. 

Eric Boldt, a warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Oxnard, told Noozhawk in December that the risk of debris flows in the Thomas Fire burn area is extremely low.

“Our worst-case scenario for flash flooding this season would be several back-to-back storms in a short period (less than seven days) when we might reach soil saturation (water runs off instead of being absorbed) and very heavy rain downpours occur on top of that,” Boldt said at the time. 

Click here for information on where to fill sandbags.

The Freedom Warming Centers for homeless residents will activate Thursday and Friday from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., across Santa Barbara County because of the weather forecast. The hotline information number is 805.324.2372.

Open locations on Thursday and Friday include the Santa Barbara Veterans' Memorial Building at 112 W. Cabrillo Blvd., Carpinteria Community Church at 1111 Vallecito Road and Peace Lutheran Church at 1000 W. Ocean Blvd. in Lompoc.

The Santa Maria Salvation Army at 200 W. Cook St. will be operating from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. Thursday, and the Grogan Community Center at 1155 W. Rancho Verde in Santa Maria will be open from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. Friday, according to organizers.

California State Parks Ranger Philip Hauck monitors Gaviota Creek.
California State Parks Ranger Philip Hauck monitors Gaviota Creek Thursday, as it partially covers the road to Gaviota State Park and Hollister Ranch. Out of an abundance of caution, the park was evacuated prior to the storm and the road is closed. Forecaster say the South Coast should see moderate to heavy rainfall through Thursday afternoon. (Mike Eliason /Santa Barbara County /Fire Department photo)

The overnight centers have altered the way it will activate to include safe distancing, sanitizing and screening procedures as well as other safety and health protocols to prevent the spread of COVID-19, organizers said.

Scroll down for a video of storm runoff racing down Tecolote Creek west of Goleta.

Storm Rainfall Totals

As of 9 p.m. Thursday, the 24-hour totals for the county showed rainfall ranged from abut two-thirds of an inch to nearly 7 inches.

According to the Public Works Department, Celite south of Lompoc had the highest 24-hour total from the storm at 6.65 inches, with a 48-hour total of 11.95 inches.

A soccer field flooded Thursday in Santa Maria.
A soccer field is flooded Thursday in Santa Maria. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

Alisal Reservoir in the Santa Ynez Valley recorded 6.62 inches, with a 48-hour total of 10.83 inches.

The 24-hour totals showed that Santa Maria received 1.96 inches of rain, Lompoc had 3.48 inches, Solvang had 2.98 inches, Buellton had 2.26 inches, Goleta had 2.83 inches, downtown Santa Barbara had 1.37 inches, Montecito had 1.01 inches and Carpinteria had 1.06 inches.

The 48-hour totals for most areas were considerably higher.

(National Weather Service map)

The Santa Barbara County Fire Department reported a 30-foot sailboat had run aground at Goleta Beach Park early Thursday. The person in the boat was safe and in contact with the U.S. Coast Guard to coordinate cleanup efforts, fire Capt. Daniel Bertucelli wrote on Twitter. 

Track rainfall totals in Santa Barbara County herehttps://rain.cosbpw.net

The Ventura County page includes rainfall totals for San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, and Ventura counties, plus radar, at: https://www.vcwatershed.net/fws/gmap.html

Road Closures

Caltrans and other agencies reported storm-related highway and local road closures in areas affected by the storm, and northbound Highway 101 was briefly closed on the Gaviota Coast due to flooding.

Montecito Creek
Montecito Creek stayed well within its banks during Thursday’s storm. (Ray Ford / Noozhawk photo)

The intersection of Calle Real and Fairview Avenue in Goleta also was shut down for a time after becoming flooded with runoff, as was another section of Calle Real to the west. 

» Click here to check road conditions from Caltrans.

» Click here for updated information on county road closures

Wind, High Surf, Flood Advisories and Beach Hazards Statement in Effect  

There are wind advisories in effect throughout the county, with strong gusts expected Thursday afternoon, according to the National Weather Service. 

Residents area advised to secure outdoor objects and be cautious driving. Tree limbs could be blown down in some areas and winds could cause power outages.

Many coastal areas have high surf advisories in effect through Friday night, with large breaking waves and dangerous rip currents expected. 

The highest surf was expected through early Friday, and then surf will slowly decrease Friday afternoon.

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

In addition, the weather agency issued a beach hazard statement for the South Coast areas through Friday morning. Residents will be faced with dangerous rip currents and elevated surf between 3-6 feet, which could cause hazardous swimming conditions, waves that can wash people off beaches and rocks into the ocean and capsize small boats near the shore. 

In the northwestern Santa Barbara County, the NWS issued a flood advisory in effect until 11:45 a.m. Thursday.

012821-Tecolote-Creek-Runoff-tb from Noozhawk on Vimeo.

Some locations expected to experience flooding include the areas of Santa Maria, Lompoc, Point Conception, Vandenberg Air Force Base, Los Alamos, Orcutt, Highway 101 through Gaviota State Park, Guadalupe, Buellton, Sisquoc, Vandenberg Village and Mission Hills, according to the advisory.

Additional rainfall estimates between 2-4 inches are expected over the area, and the additional rain will result in minor flooding, the weather service said. 

Shortly before 6 a.m. Thursday, automated rain gauges and doppler radar indicated moderate to heavy rain increasing across the western and central portion of Santa Barbara County. The NWS said rainfall rates were between one quarter and one-half inch per hour and precipitation rates as high as three-quarters of an inch per hour. 

The weather service warned of urban and small stream flooding with rocks and boulders falling onto roads, especially in the canyon areas.

Sign up for emergency alert messages from the county online here, or by following the prompts at readysbc.org

The Nixle alert system sends 138-character messages, and residents can sign up by texting their ZIP code to the number 888777.

» Click here for the latest Santa Barbara weather forecast.

» Click here for the latest Santa Maria weather forecast.

» Click here for the latest Lompoc weather forecast.

» Click here for the latest Santa Ynez Valley weather forecast.

» Click here to sign up for Noozhawk's Breaking News text alerts.

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at bholland@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Brooke Holland, Noozhawk Staff Writer | @NoozhawkNews

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at bholland@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.