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Climate and Environment

Montecito Evacuation Order Lifted, Another Storm Coming: What We Know On Day 2 Of This SoCal Storm

Two men out of focus stand on the shore amidst debris and drift wood, while they look out at the gray and brown ocean water on a stormy day. A pier can be seen in the background at the top of the frame.
Two people stand on the shore line at Surfers Point at Seaside Park during a break in the storm in Ventura on Tuesday, January 10, 2023.
(Ashley Balderrama
/
LAist)
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The second major storm this month brought a deluge of rain, prompted evacuations, turned creeks into raging rivers, and sent mud and debris flows onto roadways, forcing them to close. On Monday, Caltrans even urged residents to avoid driving altogether, if possible.

The entire city of Montecito, site of deadly mudslides in 2018, was placed under an evacuation order on Monday afternoon. We also saw evacuation orders issued for portions of Carpinteria, Summerland, and Santa Barbara. The Montecito evacuation order was lifted as of 2 p.m. Tuesday, according to Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown.

Peak winds in the local mountains topped 70 mph overnight and were at around 35 mph in many Southern California communities, according to the National Weather Service. Two-day rainfall totals were astounding, in some areas reaching double digits — nearly 17 inches in parts of Ventura County — by 4 a.m. Tuesday.

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Record rainfall was reported in Los Angeles County: more than 6 inches in Porter Ranch, 5 inches in Woodland Hills and the Hollywood Reservoir, and more than 4 inches in Pasadena, Alhambra, and Castaic. In Sandberg, a mountain community south of Gorman, a record-breaking 2.5 inches fell.

What You Should Know

  • Evacuation orders have been lifted for Montecito
  • This storm set rainfall records, with heavy rains throughout Southern California
  • Another storm is headed toward the affected areas this Friday

Cleaning Up Post-Storm

Santa Barbara County is in recovery and clean-up mode, officials said Tuesday. Residents of Monticeto can return to their homes, as Santa Barbara officials lifted the evacuation orders for the town, as well as in the Cave Fire area and shelter in place order in Alisal burn scar.

Santa Barbara Sheriff Bill Brown said residents can return, but many areas and streets will remain closed due to storm damage. Brown also cautioned that more evacuations could be on the horizon as another storm gears up to hit California on Friday.

“We know that evacuations are inconvenient hardships in many ways, and we do not make a decision to evacuate lightly. Rather, we want to ensure the safety of our community members during these difficult, challenging, and as we saw, rapidly changing disastrous events,” Brown said.

Nearly 400 residents remain stranded in the Paradise and Rancho Oso area, with crews working to get them out. Crews responded to more than 400 emergency calls and six helicopter rescues, including two this morning related to the storm.

More than a foot of rain fell in 24 hours in the mountains above Montecito, Summerland, and Carpinteria. There are 47 roads in the county still closed Tuesday afternoon due to rock slides, sinkholes, and boulders, but sound bound Highway 101 is now open. Officials said they hope to have one lane of northbound 101 opened by Tuesday evening.

In anticipation of the next system, work to clear debris basins will begin as soon as possible, Santa Barbara County Public Works Dept. Director Julie Hagen said. More than 500,000 cubic yards needs to be cleared, she added. Work will start Wednesday at the latest.

The Santa Barbara Community College, Wake campus shelter and the Veterans Memorial emergency shelter in Carpinteria will remain open for people whose homes may be uninhabitable, Santa Barbara County Director of Emergency Management Kelly Hubbard said. Residents who suspect their home is damaged can call 211 to ask for an inspection, Hubbard said.

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More Storms Coming

Tuesday’s storm is just the sixth in a series of nine, according to weather experts. Another potentially catastrophic round of storms will hit California over the next few days. The next storm, starting Wednesday night, will be concentrated in far Northern California and into Oregon and Washington. It’s expected to produce steady rain that will keep rivers high.

That next storm will likely squarely hit the state, state climatologist Mike Anderson said.

“That storm then becomes more widespread as we head into the weekend and right at the end of the precipitation forecast period,” Anderson said. “We really see the heavy rains pick up again in Southern California and the concerns that may bring.”

We've heard a lot the last few days about the increased threat of mud and debris flows. We went to the California Geological Survey to ask how long the danger will persist once the rain has stopped.

Jeremy Lancaster, a landslide geologist there, said the risk will only be reduced when the ground dries.

"So that threat can be diminished, but with another successive rainstorm, the threat is re-established," Lancaster said.

In non-burn areas, landslide threats can last days to weeks after after a significant rainfall that is butted against another strong storm. The 2005 La Conchita landslide in Ventura County was a deep, slow-moving landslide in a non-burn area, Lancaster said.

"The threat of these big, deep landslides occurring after a heavy rain year like we're seeing now may continue into the summer," Lancaster said.

The La Conchita landslide killed 10 people, including 3 children.

Over the last 15 days, San Francisco has gotten the third highest rainfall ever recorded for that area, Anderson said. He expects rainfall records to be broken in other areas as well.

Seven rivers are expected to reach flood stage in the next five days, said Jeremy Arrich, manager of the Division of Flood Management. If those rivers recede will depend on where the next storms are centered, he said.

“And it depends on how much water is currently still running off from the hills and the mountains, so it is still very location dependent. ... We don’t know if it will get worse before it gets better,” Arrich said.

Even with all the rain, many reservoirs are still below average for this time of year due a years-long deficit. Statewide, storage is at about 81% of average in California’s 154 reservoirs.

Mudflows In Duarte

When an area gets damaged by wildfire, it becomes more vulnerable to erosion — and, when there’s this much rain, mudslides. During storms, Los Angeles County likes to keep track of those areas. They include Duarte, site of the Fish Fire this past June.

3:55
In Duarte, A Cycle Of Fire And Mud

The city blocked off the most dangerous roads, like Melcanyon Road, where one mudflow stretches about a quarter of a mile, Sgt. Stevin Fiedler with the Sheriff's Department said.

“Most of the residents on this street dealt with the fires back in 2018, 2019, when we really did have a big mudflow, so obviously there’s a bit of a worry with this happening,” he said. “So far we’ve been pretty lucky on the amount of rain we’ve been getting, and it hasn’t caused the amount of damage we saw in the past.”

About 60 large cement blocks — in California, they’re called K-rails — are diverting the mudflows at major flooding points in Duarte. No injuries have been reported there so far, Fiedler said, although he advised residents to drive carefully and be aware of their surroundings. He advised Duarte residents living near mudslide areas to stay inside.

Ventura Debris

At Ventura’s Surfer’s Point, driftwood and debris was piled onto the beach. Lifetime resident Louie Jiménez said he hasn’t seen a storm like this in more than a decade.

“[The Ventura] River has opened up and has pretty much taken charge in this area,” Jiménez said.

In the last two days, 3.54 inches of rain has fallen in Ventura, according to the National Weather Service.

Evacuations

The evacuation order for Montecito in Santa Barbara County was lifted Tuesday afternoon. The entire community had been ordered to evacuate midday Monday, as another atmospheric river storm rolled across Southern California with heavy rains.

These orders were issued five years to the day in 2018 when early morning mudslides took over neighborhoods and killed 23 people there.

Similar conditions were in place: heavy rains brought on by an atmospheric river. Maryann Spradley, administrator for El Montecito Presbyterian Church in the middle of town, remembered the 2018 storm well — it killed a parishioner.

"It makes me sad," Spradley said. "I drive by every morning, the houses that were lost, and some of the vacant lots that still remain. And one of our elders who was very special lost his life in that event. And I know they were going to have a five-year anniversary tonight, but due to this storm, everything is canceled. So it just makes me sad and makes my heart really heavy."

Most of their Montecito parishioners were sheltering in place Monday night, Spradley said, describing the roads as treacherous and covered with debris. After the storm, church deacons will distribute meals and check on their members, she said.

Christina Favuzzi with the Montecito Fire Department said that local infrastructure improvements since the 2018 mudslides have helped save lives and homes during this set of storms.

"The rocks, the trees, any debris that came down from the hills, was captured in those debris basins — the water flowed by — and so we don't have large boulders that took out homes this time like they did in 2018," Favuzzi said.

The storm can trigger memories of great loss for their community, Taylor Poisall with the Santa Barbara County Red Cross said. But they are available to provide comfort.

"This can be one of the worst days of people's lives. And they can talk to a Red Cross volunteer or fellow evacuees, their neighbors, to provide comfort," Poisall said.

In this map from Monday, you can see Montecito's evacuation order areas in red, while the pink indicates shelter-in-place orders:

A map of Santa Barbara County showing evacuation areas, including a red area covering much of Montecito, as well as a pink area further up the coast.
Evacuation and shelter-in-place orders in Santa Barbara County.
(Screenshot via Santa Barbara County Office of Emergency Management)

L.A. County

A small portion of L.A. County was also under an evacuation warning, including the Juniper Hills and Valyermo areas, until 8 p.m. Tuesday night as the storm moves southward. These areas are on the northern slope of the San Gabriel Mountains.

Residents should be ready for possible evacuations due to mud or debris flow. The Los Angeles County Office of Emergency Management said residents should gather loved ones, pets, and supplies — and be ready to leave.

You can see the areas here, via a map from the county's government:

A map shows evacuation warnings in small portions of L.A. County near Juniper Hills, Big Rock Springs, and Paradise Springs.
Evacuation warnings were in effect Monday afternoon at these locations.
(Courtesy L.A. County)

Ventura

A tumultuous muddy river flows towards a bridge with train tracks. The stands of the bridge in the water are full of drift wood and debris.
The bridge of train tracks on the Ventura River collect debris and mud from upstream on Tuesday, January 10, 2023.
(Ashley Balderrama
/
LAist)

Last week's heavy downpours caused the Ventura River to breach its banks, and areas nearby where under evacuation orders Monday in advance of expected flooding overnight. The river has been the site of deadly flooding.

Heavy rain can swell the river quickly. The Ventura Beach RV Resort was under an evacuation order starting at 3 p.m. Monday. County officials notified homeless encampments to leave the river bank and to seek safe shelter.

Ventura County lifted an evacuation order for residences on the south side of Creek Road between Oak View and Ojai on Tuesday morning, as well as the shelter-in-place order for residents on the north side of the road.

“Residents returning to these areas are advised to use caution and be aware of potential debris on roadways and ongoing public safety activities,” the county wrote on its incident information website.

Swift water rescue teams saved 18 people from the Ventura River on Monday — seven of the rescued people were unhoused living in encampments near the river bed while others lived in residences near the river.

Fox 11 News captured video of the rescue:

Further north

Cal Poly agricultural buildings and facilities were being evacuated Monday due to an imminent reservoir breach outside of San Luis Obispo.

Animals associated with the agricultural school were also being evacuated. The school said the main campus was not under threat. Classes were canceled Monday morning.

Evacuation Centers

On black asphalt of an empty parking lot there is a white sign with white lettering that says "Ventura County" under that red lettering says "Emergency Evcauation Check-In" and under that red lettering says "Do not exit your vehicle." In the middle of the sign there are two red stop signs symbols that say "Stop" and "Alto" respectively. At the bottom of the sign, green font states "Registro de evacuacion de emergencia." And below that red lettering says "No se baje del vehiculo."
An emergency evacuation site is set up at Ventura College due to heavy storms on Tuesday, January 10, 2023.
(Ashley Balderrama
/
LAist)

  • Wake Center at Santa Barbara City College
  • Veterans Memorial Building at 941 Walnut Ave. (Carpinteria)

In Ventura County, emergency shelter was provided overnight to six unhoused residents at the Ventura College gym, according to Edward Sajor with the county's Human Services agency.
"They seem satisfied to be here, because their needs were being taken care of," Sajor said. "They had a safe place to hunker down for the night and to get something to eat, and to just kind of clean up before they exited."

That shelter was empty as of early Tuesday afternoon.

A Note To Drivers On Our Roads

  • Check your car
  • Know that middays can be the most dangerous
  • Plan ahead
  • Turn on your headlights
  • Slow down!
  • If you do end up skidding, don't panic
  • Don't drive through standing water
  • Pay attention, duh

We have more detailed guidance: Your Guide To Driving Safely In The Rain In LA (And Really Anywhere).

Road Closures And Conditions

A structure with a red sign that says "Pizzaria." On the wet road in front of the pizza place there are two orange cones and a sign that says "road closed." Trees in the background and palm trees next to the pizza shop.
Road closure on Thompson Blvd in Ventura by the 101 FWY on Tuesday, January 10, 2023.
(Ashley Balderrama
/
LAist)

The rains caused dangerous conditions on our freeways, with flooding being a major contributing factor. Click here for a running list of area road closures from L.A. County Public Works

Check the full list of closures for Santa Barbara County here.

State Route 126 was closed early Tuesday from Fillmore city limits to Fairview Canyon as mudflows seeped into all lanes. The California Highway Patrol of Moorpark reports about 3 feet of mud and rocks covered the lanes.

Public transit users should also double-check to see whether the storm will impact their commute. In South Pasadena, Metro said the Gold Line would see major delays because of damage to overhead wires caused fallen tree.

Union Station in downtown L.A. was experiencing flooding Tuesday.

Shortly after noon on Tuesday, the Pasadena Fire Department posted a photo of a large tree that crushed a van.

School Closures

All Santa Barbara County public schools planned to close Tuesday, according to the county. All four Malibu public schools, were closed Tuesday, but students were set to receive remote learning, according to a message posted on the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District website.

Topanga Elementary School in Los Angeles was also closed until further notice because of access issues caused by the storm. According to the L.A. Unified School District, students were being rerouted to Canyon Charter Elementary School.

Other Closures

The storm system caused multiple cancellations and delays at western airports. Flights to and from Harry Reid International airport in Las Vegas were grounded for a few hours Tuesday afternoon due to wind, but were beginning to resume. Departures from San Francisco International were delayed by about 15 minutes.

Numerous flights to Hollywood Burbank Airport were canceled or delayed, while a few were diverted to other airports. LAX was experiencing minimal delays, but check with your airline for your flight’s status.

The Santa Barbara Airport was closed due to flooding, with all commercial flights canceled until further notice, but it began a phased reopening Tuesday afternoon.

Flood Watch

A an opening in a metal gate with black tarp reveals a flooded passageway next to a green lawn. In the background there are structures and palm trees.
Some flooding in and around the Ventura Fairgrounds due to the storms on Tuesday, January 10, 2023.
(Ashley Balderrama
/
LAist)

As the latest atmospheric river moved into Southern California Monday, most of L.A. County was under some kind of flood watch or warning — including the valleys, mountains, and the L.A. Basin.

A flash flood warning is issued when a flash flood is in progress or is coming. If you’re in a low-lying area that’s likely to flood, you should grab belongings and pets, then get to higher ground.

The many creeks that wind through Santa Barbara County hillsides, including the community of Montecito, were swollen with record rainfall. The San Bernardino County Fire Department warned that mountain areas could see up to 7 inches of rain through 10 p.m. Tuesday.

One area affected by flooding Monday was Santa Barbara's east side.

Impact On The Drought

With the storms this month, it may be tempting to think our prolonged drought is over — Los Angeles County reports it captured more than 7 billion gallons of water this storm season, which is enough to support 182,00 people for a year.

The recent atmospheric rivers along the West Coast have been great for our reservoirs and the snowpack, which is building at a record pace for any year, according to the National Weather Service.

“The snowpack has never been this deep for this time of year,” said NWS meteorologist Alex Tardy. “We are making significant headway on the drought; it’s just too much [rain] at once in some places.”

But the drought is far from over.

It'll take a lot more than a few exceptional storms, according to Jonathan Rutz with the Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes at UCSD's Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

"What we really need to start talking about busting a drought would be for this type of weather to continue right through the entire year through April or something, or to have multiple consecutive years in a row when we see storm sequences like this," Rutz said.

The good news: big storms do help restore some of our water supply. But Rutz's excitement is tempered — while some reservoirs have come up substantially, others are still well below their historical averages.

"One storm system or even one good storm season isn't going to change that. We do need to practice our water conservation measures every year — common practice now," said Steven Frasher of L.A. County Public Works.

Currently, stormwater accounts for about one-third of L.A.'s water supply during a year. Work continues to expand that system, Frasher said.

California's Storm Response

President Joe Biden issued an emergency declaration Monday following a formal request from Gov. Gavin Newsom a day earlier. Newsom asked for assistance to support storm recovery efforts, announcing $202 million from the state's budget to be invested into long-term flood prevention to improve urban flooding and levees, particularly in the Delta region.

"These floods are deadly, and have now turned to be more deadly than even the wildfires here in the state of California. Common sense — just be cautious over the course of the next week," Newsom said.

State officials reported that 12 people died from storm-related impacts, including flooding, in the preceding 10 days. They urged Californians to avoid commuting if possible during the intense hours of the storm — highlighting that a car can float in just a foot of water.

How Experts Track Atmospheric Rivers

We've been telling you about atmospheric rivers, and here's the work that goes into forecasting them. Teams known as "Hurricane Hunters" fly directly into the storm. The information those teams collect is a game changer for short-range forecasts, according to Jonathan Rutz with UC San Diego's Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

"What was previously sort of the skill we used to have for one of these events with a two-day forecast, we had that same skill four days out. So we essentially double the amount of lead time with which we were able to make precipitation forecasts," Rutz said.

When Hurricane Hunters fly into a storm, they drop a device into the weather system which collects data about atmosphere, temperature, moisture, and wind, Rutz said. That information is then sent off to meteorologists and others to analyze in order to create a forecast.

What Else You Should Know About Atmospheric Rivers

A single atmospheric river can carry more water than the Mississippi River at its mouth and its winds can be dangerous.

An illustration of the West Coast from an aerial perspective shows a thick band of blue moisture forming over the ocean and traveling inland over California's mountains.
(Courtesy NOAA)

But these phenomena are also a normal part of West Coast weather, bringing sorely needed rain and adding to the snowpack that's a key source of our state's water.

At the same time, it's the same weather event that triggered the catastrophic Montecito mudslide in early 2018.

Eric Boldt, with the National Weather Service, told us that you can think of atmospheric rivers just like the name implies: a river in the sky.

"So an atmospheric river is basically the fuel of a storm system over the Pacific Ocean," he said. "It really taps into a lot of water vapor that is streaming over the top of our heads and fueling the storm system as it moves to California."

How We're Reporting On This

Producers from LAist/KPCC have been monitoring updates as the storm moves through Southern California, including Sam Benson Smith and Mike Roe updating this story. Staff members who've contributed to this story include Ernesto Arce, Michael Flores, Jackie Fortiér, Rebecca Gutierrez, Jackie Orchard, Julia Paskin, Gillian Morán Pérez, Nate Perez, Mike Roe, and Sam Benson Smith.

What Questions We're Asking

  • What damage did this storm cause?
  • How much rain was there?
  • Where will the longest lasting impacts be?

Learn more

Your Questions Or Ideas

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