February 4, 2023
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Santa Barbara County lifts emergency evacuation orders

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Evacuation warnings for the Alisal, Thomas, and Cave Fire burn areas were lifted on the morning of Jan. 5, as the storm came and went without too much damage.

The Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Office announced the evacuation lifts at 9:30 a.m. In a press release, the office did warn returning residents to be careful and “aware of loose and falling rocks, minor landslides, wet road conditions, down trees and lines.”

Refugio Road is closed at this time due to flooding while Highway 154 is also closed in both directions due to rock slides, from 246 to 192. There is no estimated time for reopening, the press release said.

Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown had ordered evacuations for the aforementioned fire-burn areas of the South Coast at 3 p.m. on Jan. 4, as threats of a strong storm barreling down on the region with forecasts of up to 10 inches of rain were seen as a real concern.

Earlier on Jan. 4, California Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency following the forecast of a bomb-cyclone-fueled storm heading for the state.

The evacuation orders came just a few days before the fifth anniversary of the mud flows that claimed 20 lives in Montecito when a flash flood ripped through canyons in Thomas Fire burn areas. 

“If the past five years have taught us anything, it is always better to be safe,” wrote Santa Barbara County Supervisor Das Williams in a statement.

In the future, to check on emergency services and warnings for the area, head to readysbc.org. Further, if in need of information regarding emergency services, residents are encouraged to avoid calling 911 and instead opt for the informational line at 211. 

The National Weather Service also issued a High Surf Advisory for Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo County for their beaches until 4:00 a.m. on Thurs. Waves as high as eight to twelve feet were anticipated in addition to hazardous rip currents. 

The bitter conditions are due to an atmospheric river, a long and narrow weather system that carries massive amounts of water vapor that gets unleashed as rain and snow when making landfall. This definition comes from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. 

All across the state, there were flood warnings and evacuation notices following the extreme weather seen in the last week. This storm will bring a greater intensity, with more flooding and potential mudslides in wildfire burn scar areas as well as emergency rescues and likely power outages. 

Despite the threat of substantial risk to life and property, there may be a silver lining. All the water presents a hopeful reprieve from the ongoing drought California has experienced in the last few years. As of now, several of California’s reservoirs are near or above historic levels, with some seeing significant increases over the last two months. The Cachuma Reservoir near Santa Barbara rose 26 percent since Nov., reaching 77 percent of its average level. 

In California’s first snow survey of the season on Tues., officials announced the Sierra Nevada snowpack, which provides about a third of the state’s water, hit 174 percent of its historic statewide average for that date, marking the best start to a snow season in 40 years. That said, conditions often change quickly as can be seen during the last rainy season when in late 2021 California logged heavy rain and snowfall but then in early 2022 experienced its driest three months on record. 

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