A cold front brought heavy rain, isolated thunderstorms and even dime-sized hail to portions of Santa Barbara County on Thursday, capping off a two-day rain event that broke a Santa Maria record and dumped more than four inches of rain on some county mountains.
The storm broke a 112-year-old rainfall record at the Santa Maria Public Airport. As of 5:18 p.m., the Hancock Field rain gauge reported receiving 0.71 of an inch of rain, surpassing the 0.55 of an inch recorded in 1906.
The steady rain and light showers that blanketed the Central Coast throughout the morning and early afternoon Thursday were replaced by two short cloudbursts around 1:30 p.m., prompting the National Weather Service to issue a flood advisory for large portions of Santa Barbara County, including the Whittier and Thomas fire burn areas.
"This is the most significant line of showers and isolated thunderstorms for the remainder of the storm," meteorologist David Sweet said, warning that flooding was possible in Lompoc, Santa Ynez, Solvang and Buellton, as well as at Vandenberg Air Force Base and on highways 101 and 154.
"Motorists in the area need to slow down and allow more time to reach their destination," he said.
The Santa Barbara County Office of Emergency Management advised individuals near creeks and streams below recent burn areas to stay alert and aware of their surroundings and take action if necessary. While a rain gauge at Edison Trail in the Thomas fire burn area received 0.20 of an inch of rain between 2:40 and 2:45 p.m., no major mudslides, rockslides or debris flow were reported.
City of Santa Maria spokesperson Mark Van de Kamp said the rain had a relatively minor impact on the town and its Public Works Department. The stretch of Black Road between West Betteravia and Mahoney roads that normally floods during major storms remained open, and city crews responded to seven reports of downed tree limbs.
Showers were expected to taper off Thursday night, giving way to cool and dry conditions for most of Friday. Short moments of light rain are possible Saturday morning, but Sweet said conditions should start to improve through the afternoon and into Sunday — good news for the Santa Maria Christmas Parade of Lights, which is set to start at 5:20 p.m. Saturday.
A break in the weather is expected through next Wednesday, when another storm could make its way to the region.
"We're continuing a weather pattern that's favorable for additional storms to move into California," Sweet said of the storm system, which drifted southeast from the Pacific Ocean. "There's no ridge of high pressure blocking the storms from getting here."
The weather has yet to make a dent in the region's multi-year drought, with the Cachuma, Gibraltar, Jameson and Twitchell reservoirs holding less water now than at the start of the water year, which began in September.
"Usually we tell people that one storm does not a drought break," Sweet said. "We need a series of storms — at least one or two heavy years — but we'll take what we can get."