With a trio of storm systems expected to make for a wet week throughout Santa Barbara County, officials already have begun issuing evacuation orders for South County residents living near the recent burn areas.

As of Monday afternoon, rainfall was expected late Monday night into Tuesday, with another storm predicted for Wednesday into Thursday, and a third Friday into Saturday. In anticipation of those events, the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office issued evacuation orders around 3:20 p.m. Monday for residents living near the Thomas, Sherpa and Whittier fire burn areas.

According to the evacuation order, "individuals must be out of the evacuation area by 8 p.m." Monday.

The strongest rain from those systems is expected to be between 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesday, according to Stuart Seto, a weather specialist with the National Weather Service. Anywhere from 0.5 to 1.5 inches is predicted during that window, he said, with the higher totals expected in the mountains and foothills.

With so much rain being forecast, county officials reported that they are continuing to monitor the systems and develop emergency plans. A release sent out by the county Monday afternoon noted that county emergency officials have learned lessons from the recent storms that have them better prepared for future events.

To help assess potential risks, the county advises residents to check the Debris Flow Risk Map posted at www.ReadySBC.org. Those areas in the "high risk" yellow zones on the map were not under mandatory evacuation orders as of Monday, but were under recommended evacuation warning status and "are at risk for flooding or being cut off from services and utilities," according to county officials. Those officials advised that "people with access and functional needs or large animals living in high risk (yellow) areas should consider immediate evacuation."

"The National Weather Service has informed us that the approaching storm is of greater intensity than was previously anticipated," Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said Monday afternoon. "The rate of rainfall is predicted to meet or exceed the threshold level that could trigger debris flows."

A release from the county noted that several factors will be taken into account when determining evacuation plans, including projected amount and intensity of rainfall; capacity of debris basins and creek channels at the time of a predicted storm; status of potential obstructions that can change the direction of water flow; the level of ground saturation; and the risk of damage to basic utilities.

Emergency and public safety officials will meet ahead of each storm, according to the county, to determine potential impact and evacuation-related factors.

“As we know, meteorological forecasts have a lot of uncertainty,” said Rob Lewin, director of the county’s Office of Emergency Management. “Storms can easily exceed forecasts, and we constantly balance this possibility with actions needed to keep the public safe.”

Seto indicated that the National Weather Service may issue flash flood watches or warnings in the county depending on the conditions leading up the storms.

The rain amounts predicted for the storms, according to the National Weather Service, are about 0.3 to 0.5 inches per hour late Monday into Wednesday, about 0.3 inches per hour late Wednesday into Thursday and about 0.5 inches per hour on Friday into Saturday. Possible thunderstorms are forecast for Friday.

The California Highway Patrol will continue to monitor the storm activity and work to ensure Highway 101 remains open, according to the county. Should the agency need to close the highway, the CHP would do so prior to the arrival of the intense portion of the storm.

Community members are encouraged by county officials to sign up for emergency alerts through the “Aware and Prepare” initiative at www.ReadySBC.org. County updates are also available through social media at @countyofsb on Twitter and www.facebook.com/countyofsb.

For general weather-related information from the county, call 211 from a phone with an 805 area code, call 800-400-1572 from a non-805 phone number, or text a zip code to 898-211.

Willis Jacobson covers the city of Lompoc for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @WJacobsonLR.


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