A powerful winter storm was continuing to lash Santa Barbara County Monday evening, causing widespread flooding, mudflows, swamped vehicles, road closures and water rescues.
By late afternoon, several locations in the county had recorded between 9 and 11 inches of rainfall in the 24 hours ending at 4 p.m., and forecasters were calling for potentially another round of moderate to heavy rainfall overnight into Tuesday.
Emergency personnel were kept busy throughout the day responding to vehicles that had become trapped on flooded roadways, and several water rescues were reported.
The intense weather was occurring exactly five years to the day after the deadly Montecito debris flows that resulted in 23 deaths, dozens of injuries, and hundreds of damaged properties.
Widespread evacuations were ordered — for all of Montecito and some of Carpinteria Valley and Summerland; for Refugio Canyon and parts of the Gaviota Coast; and for areas below San Marcos Pass.
Creeks throughout the South Coast were swollen with roiling brown runoff, and in many cases were flooding out of their channels onto adjacent roadways.
Similarly, North County communities were reporting widespread localized flooding and road closures.
Impressive 24-hour rainfall totals were reported by the county Public Works Department as of 3:30 p.m. Monday, including: 11.08 inches on San Marcos Pass, 9.14 inches at Alisal Reservoir in the Santa Ynez Valley, 8.42 inches at the top of Tecolote Canyon west of Goleta, 8.07 inches at Jameson Reservoir on the upper Santa Ynez River, 7.80 inches at Refugio Pass, 6.92 inches on East Camino Cielo above Santa Barbara.
San Marcos Pass has received 12.2 inches, which is a historical rainfall record, according to the National Weather Service.
“As far as we know this is a historical record for that amount of rain in that location,” Eric Boldt of the NWS said Monday afternoon.
Due to heavy runoff from the storm, Lake Cachuma had risen more than 18 feet since midnight, as of 10 p.m. Monday, and had reached 53.8% of capacity.
The lake has added 44,760 acre-feet of water since Dec. 1 of last year.
Flooding, mudflows and rock and debris on the roadways led to the shutdown of northbound Highway 101 near Gaviota, and of Highway 154 over San Marcos Pass.
Highway 101 was later closed in both directions between State Route 150 in Carpinteria and Cabrillo Boulevard in Santa Barbara because of debris flows across the lanes and flooding.
Many more road closures were reported due to flooding across the county.
The Santa Barbara Airport was shut down at midday, with the terminal closed and all commercial flights canceled for the day. Passengers were advised to check with their airlines for more information.
Officials announced late Monday afternoon that all public schools in the county would be closed on Tuesday, due to continued road closures and flooding.
Families with children in private schools were urged to contact their schools for updates.
Despite all the weather mayhem, no serious injuries were reported.
The outlook for the evening and overnight hours was not encouraging, with another 6-hour period of moderate to heavy rainfall expected.
“It’s a very, very concerning forecast,” Kevin Taylor, chief of the Montecito Fire Protection District, told Noozhawk Monday afternoon.
The heaviest rain will be between 4 p.m. and 10 p.m., according to Dave Gromberg, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Oxnard.
“We’ve still got that big plume of moisture sitting offshore,” Gomberg told Noozhawk. “Santa Barbara County is going to get hit pretty hard.”
Most areas will likely receive another 1-2 inches of rain, Gomberg said, with some — especially those along the ridge of the Santa Ynez Mountains — seeing considerably more.
“The foothills and mountains are going to be the big winners,” he said.
A Flash Flood Warning for the entire county is in effect until midnight.
Eric Boldt of the National Weather Service said there would be “pretty intense” rain from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. and then a break until about midnight. After that, the air mass becomes more unstable and there will be more rain and thunderstorms until about 10 a.m. Tuesday, he said.
Rain rates of up to 1.45 inches have been recorded in southern Santa Barbara County, and some areas got up to 3 inches in three hours – that makes dangerous conditions for flash flooding in all areas, not just areas that recently burned in wildfires, he said Monday afternoon.
Sheriff Bill Brown said significant rockfalls have occurred on Highway 154 and Highway 101 near Gaviota, so highway closures will last until at least Tuesday.
“It is going to be a pretty arduous process” to clear the major rockfall on 154, he said.
There was a significant rockfall on Highway 101 northbound lanes at Gaviota when a protective rock net fell and I-beams were pulled out of the ground, Brown added. A contractor will have to use heavy equipment to clear all that rock from the roadway and that won’t happen until Tuesday, he said.
That means commuters from the North County to the Santa Barbara area may not be able to get home after work Monday, and the county is looking to open additional evacuation centers.
There will also be an evacuation center in the North County for people stuck there due to highway closures.
There are multiple Highway 101 closures between Santa Barbara and Carpinteria due to flooding and mud on the roadways, and crews are trying to clear some of them so people can evacuate out of there, Brown said.
Overnight and into Tuesday, atmospheric conditions will be less stable and more showery, with a chance of thunderstorms.
By Wednesday, things should begin drying up until another storm — likely less potent — moves through the region over the weekend.