Strong thunderstorms are possible in Santa Barbara County Tuesday and Wednesday as a rain storm brings subtropical moisture to the region, according to the National Weather Service.
Thunderstorms can produce higher rainfall rates, which can cause flooding and debris flows in recent fire burn areas.
“Potential impacts from thunderstorms today (Tuesday) include roadway flooding, minor mud and debris flows in recent burn areas, rock/mudslides along mountain/canyon roadways, and localized wind damage, mainly across Santa Barbara County and local mountains. In addition, local beaches may be impacted by lightning strikes,” the NWS said.
The greatest chance of thunderstorms appears to be Tuesday afternoon and evening, according to the NWS.
As of 1:30 p.m., several rounds of heavy rain had hit the South Coast, with a rainfall rate of 0.32 inches in 15 minutes recorded at Tecolote Canyon west of Goleta, the NWS said.
“There is a possibility of some local heavy rains with thunderstorms, and it could produce localized flooding,” meteorologist Joe Sirard with the NWS in Oxnard said Tuesday morning, adding, “People need to be aware of the dangers of lightning.”
Rainfall amounts from this storm have been reduced significantly, with the NWS now forecasting 0.5 to 1.5 inches of total rainfall in valleys and non-coastal slopes, and up to 2.5 inches on south-facing slopes.
Rainy weather was expected for the day’s morning and afternoon commutes. Highway 154 remained closed to through traffic as of 8 a.m. Tuesday, due to the Camino Fire response near West Camino Cielo. That 5-6-acre blaze was stopped Monday night but crews remained on the scene overnight and into the morning.
A wind advisory is in effect for most of Santa Barbara County through 1 p.m. Tuesday, with gusts up to 45 mph possible.
There is a 100-percent chance of rain throughout Santa Barbara County on Tuesday, which drops to a 40-percent chance Wednesday and 20-percent Thursday afternoon.
“We should be dry on Thursday night and Friday,” Sirard said.
The county ReadySBC.org website has debris flow and flooding risk maps for communities below recent burn areas, including the Cave Fire and Thomas Fire, and storm readiness information including where to find sandbags.
This week’s rain comes after an abnormally dry January and February in Santa Barbara County.
While it’s not uncommon for either a drier than normal January or February — the county’s two statistically wettest months —it’s unusual for both those months to be as parched as experienced this water year, said Shawn Johnson, county senior hydrologist.
There has been only one drier combined January and February countywide within the past 100 years, according to Johnson.
March is statistically the area’s third wettest month of the year, and capable of bringing considerable rainfall, Johnson said.
“We need rain,” said Tom Fayram, the county’s deputy director of water resources. “The last thing that we need is a drought.”
November and December were a wetter-than-normal start to the water year in the county, before things dried up.
Overall, Santa Barbara County is at 55 percent of average rainfall for the water year that began Sept. 1.
Upstream from Gibraltar is Jameson Lake, operated and owned by the Montecito Water District, which was at 80-percent capacity.
After a dry January across Southern California, there were only small amounts of rain across the region in February, according to the National Weather Service.
“We have been extremely dry, especially over the last 30 days,” said Mark Jackson, meteorologist at the NWS’s Los Angeles/Oxnard station, later adding, “February is our big month for rain, and each month from here on out will get, on average, drier.”
February was one of the driest months on record at many locations in Southern California, and most of them received less than 5 percent of normal rainfall that month, according to the weather service.
“The Santa Maria Airport received no rain at all in February, not even a trace, for the first time since records began in the area in 1906, obviously making for its driest February ever,” the NWS said in a statement last week.
“It was also the driest February on record at San Luis Obispo Airport, where just a trace of rain was recorded, but records only go back 22 years.”
Noozhawk managing editor Giana Magnoli contributed reporting to this story.