MONTECITO (CBSLA) – Southern California officials are preparing for a large storm which moved in Tuesday afternoon and is expected to bring the heaviest rains of the season so far, posing a flooding and mudslide risk to recent burn areas.
According to the National Weather Service, the storm system moving across the Eastern Pacific will bring moderate to heavy rains beginning Tuesday evening and lasting through Friday morning.
“Storm total rainfall is expected to range from 2 to 5 inches across coastal and valley areas, with 5 to locally 10 inches across the foothills and coastal slopes,” the NWS said in a statement.
Flooding and mudflows are possible in recent burn areas, including the La Tuna and Creek fires in Los Angeles County. All Burbank hiking trails and recreation areas, including the Stough Nature Center, will be closed beginning at 3 p.m. Tuesday.
The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office issued a mandatory evacuation order for the Thomas, Sherpa and Whittier burn areas. The order takes effect at noon Tuesday and impacts about 7,500 homes. They include the communities of Montecito and Carpinteria, where several businesses had already closed their doors Tuesday morning.
“We could experience localized flooding and road closures which are not isolated to the burn areas. The threat of rock falls, mud slides and debris flow is high,” said Rob Lewin, director of the Santa Barbara County Office of Emergency Management.
Despite the warning, some in the area chose to wait out part of the storm Tuesday.
“I’ve already packed up, I’m ready to go,” Montecito resident Sean Bolis told CBS2 News. He said his son was with the boy’s grandmother, saying, “I’m not taking any chances with him.”
In Ventura County, mandatory evacuations were issued for La Conchita, Matilija Canyon, North Fork and Casitas Springs to Nye Road.
Flash flood watches are in place through Friday morning for recent burn areas from Ventura County south to Orange County, and west to the Inland Empire.
CBS2 Meteorologist Danielle Gersh says rain will being as early as Tuesday evening and continue into the overnight hours, with periods of heavy rain throughout burn area and the Los Angeles Basin.
Rainfall rates could range from 0.6 inches per hour overnight Tuesday, to 0.75 inches per hour overnight Wednesday, the NWS said.
Gersh says the 101 Freeway in Santa Barbara County, near Carpinteria, which shut down for several weeks in January following the devastating Montecito mudslides, is at risk.
“The stretch of the 101 Freeway is going to be a big concern over the next couple of days,” Gersh said.
If the freeway needs to be closed, California Highway Patrol will do so prior to the storm, Santa Barbara County officials said.
A cold front will bring even more heavy rain Wednesday night, beginning at around 7 p.m.
“And then that cold front will make its way to the area, Wednesday night into Thursday, and this is a time period I’m especially concerned about too,” Gersh explained.
The showers will finally taper off Friday.
“This atmospheric river event will likely bring the highest rainfall totals to some portions of Southwest California, so far this season,” the NWS said.
The 281,893-acre Thomas Fire, the largest in California history, broke out Dec. 4 in Santa Paula. Fueled by Santa Ana winds and hot, dry conditions, it spread across Ventura County and up into Santa Barbara County, burning for about five weeks before being fully contained. The blaze forced thousands of people to evacuate and destroyed a staggering 1,063 structures — including more than 750 homes.
It set the stage for deadly mudslides on Jan. 9 in Montecito, when a storm triggered flash floods on hillsides ravaged by the Thomas Fire, killing at least 21 people, destroyed or damaged hundreds of homes, and shut down the 101 Freeway for weeks.
On March 15, a four-mile stretch of Topanga Canyon Boulevard in Malibu was shut down after a mudslide caused by heavy rainfall sent rocks and debris tumbling onto the roadway. Topanga Canyon was not reopened until Sunday.
This is the third mudslide in the past month in the burn area where a fire broke out in June of 2017. Until the weak hillside can heal and get its roots back in place, the threat of mudslides will exist every time it rains.