Intense storm brings flood fears to Southern California

Santa Barbara, California - Five years to the day after storm-induced mudslides ravaged Montecito, California, the entire town was ordered to evacuate as a deadly winter storm plowed through the area.

Abandoned cars are left in a flooded street in east Santa Barbara, California.
Abandoned cars are left in a flooded street in east Santa Barbara, California.  © REUTERS

Evacuation orders were also issued for parts of Santa Barbara and the nearby communities of Carpinteria and Summerland due to Monday's deluge.

The weather took a deadly turn in San Luis Obispo County [north of Santa Barbara], where floodwaters swept away a 5-year-old boy and a motorist died after entering a flooded roadway.

The conditions prompted officials to plead that residents stay home.

The storm's force and duration were readily apparent, with videos from the area showing normally tame creek beds transformed into raging torrents, roads choked with water and debris, and, in one case, a person kayaking down a street swamped by windshield-high water.

In Montecito, the storm called to mind the devastating January 2018 mudslides that killed 23 people, destroyed 130 homes, and caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damage.

In addition to Montecito, the evacuation order applies to residents of Toro Canyon, Padaro Lane from Via Real to Santa Claus Lane and Sycamore Canyon, and all campgrounds from Rincon Beach to Gaviota Beach.

Another evacuation order was issued about 2:00 PM for the Serena Park area due to flooding. Cal Poly San Luis Obispo said it was evacuating its agriculture facilities, including the Cal Poly Creamery, amid concerns about the Shepard Reservoir needing to release floodwaters. The campus core is not affected by the evacuation.

Flash flood warnings issued for Santa Barbara County and more

Residents stand near a fire truck on a flooded street in east Santa Barbara, California.
Residents stand near a fire truck on a flooded street in east Santa Barbara, California.  © REUTERS

In Santa Barbara, confused tourists and business owners took photos of flooded buildings.

The mountains of Santa Barbara County have received more than 10 inches of rain, the National Weather Service said. That area, as well as parts of Ventura County, "will remain under the gun through early evening with periods of heavy rain."

The weather service reported flash floods in parts of Santa Barbara and Ventura counties.

Much of southwestern California was under watches and warnings for floods, high wind, and high surf, according to the National Weather Service, with many of the advisories stretching into Tuesday. A flash flood warning is in place in northern Ventura County and northwestern Los Angeles County until 9:00 PM.

In San Luis Obispo County, rescuers called off the search for a 5-year-old boy swept away by floodwaters Monday afternoon when conditions became unsafe for divers to continue looking, according to Tony Cipolla, spokesperson for the county Sheriff's Office.

Elsewhere in San Luis Obispo County, a motorist died after entering a flooded portion of Avila Beach Drive, according to the California Highway Patrol's Coastal Division. Evacuations have been ordered in several neighborhoods near the Salinas River in Paso Robles.

California under state of emergency

A resident walks along a flooded street, after "atmospheric river" rainstorms slammed northern California, in the coastal town of Aptos.
A resident walks along a flooded street, after "atmospheric river" rainstorms slammed northern California, in the coastal town of Aptos.  © REUTERS

The rain has wreaked havoc on roads. The storm has also forced the closure of Santa Barbara Airport and the cancellation of classes Monday and Tuesday at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

The storm is the latest in a series of atmospheric rivers lashing the Golden State. The most significant impact is in Northern California, prompting concerns over flooding and hazardous winds. Late Sunday, President Joe Biden approved an emergency declaration for the state.

"This [storm] will be quite strong, very energetic, delivering a lot of rain plus strong, gusty winds," said David Sweet, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Oxnard.

Another storm is likely this weekend, forecasters say.

The storm is predicted to pick up in intensity before tapering off Tuesday evening. Rainfall amounts in Los Angeles County are expected to reach 2 to 4 inches along the coast and in coastal valleys and 4 to 8 inches in the foothills and mountains, especially south-facing slopes.

Wind gusts could top 60 mph at the coast and 70 mph in the mountains. Snow will likely remain above 7,500 feet.

Parts of California under wind and high surf advisories

Cars are seen submerged in flood waters in Morro Bay, California.
Cars are seen submerged in flood waters in Morro Bay, California.  © REUTERS

A high wind warning is in effect for San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties until 10:00 PM Monday and in the Los Angeles County mountains and the Antelope Valley until 7:00 PM Tuesday. A wind advisory went into effect Monday at noon until 10:00 PM for portions of southwest California, including the Catalina and Santa Barbara Islands and Ventura and Los Angeles counties.

High surf advisories are in effect through 4:00 PM Tuesday for the beaches of Ventura, San Luis Obispo, and Santa Barbara counties, with dangerous rip tides and waves reaching 12 feet in some areas.

Urban and small-stream flooding is likely, Sweet said.

Areas that were damaged in previous wildfires pose serious hazards.

Rain and strong winds were spreading into Orange and southwestern San Bernardino counties Monday, along with gusty south-to-southeast winds. Parts of Orange, San Bernardino, and Riverside counties were under a flood watch through Tuesday evening, and a wind advisory that took effect at 4:00 PM Monday extends until 4:00 PM Tuesday in the inland and coastal areas of Orange County, according to the National Weather Service in San Diego.

Monday's storm comes on the heels of a series of weather systems last week in California that pummeled coastal communities and left more than 400,000 without power on Sunday.

The atmospheric river is essentially "draped along the Central Coast," slamming the area from Monterey County into Santa Barbara County with the heaviest rainfall, with some downpours extending northeast and southwest, Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA, said.

"This is just the middle of what has already been a very wet and active pattern – and what is expected to be one, really, for at least another week or so," Swain said.

Cover photo: REUTERS

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