Rain and cooler weather are forecast for the area over the coming weeks, causing concern for burn areas from the wildfires that ravaged the Central Coast last year.
A low-pressure system brewing 800 miles west of Lompoc is drifting toward the Central Coast, pulling moisture up from the southwest. The system will contribute to a wet Wednesday, with light showers increasing through Thursday morning.
Estimates provided by the National Weather Service suggest Santa Maria, Lompoc and the Santa Ynez Valley will receive one-tenth inch of rain, with the possibility increasing next week.
"It looks like a wet weather pattern through Jan. 13," said John Lindsey, Pacific Gas and Electric Co. meteorologist. "For a big chunk of November and all of December, we’ve had a resilient ridge of high pressure over the West Coast. Now it has broken, and mid-latitude westerlies are blowing [storms] across the Pacific and onto the Central Coast."
While a three-month outlook suggests a drier-than-average winter season, 10-day models indicate a 70- to 80-percent chance of above-average precipitation for the Central Coast. The elevated probability of above-average precipitation has become a point of concern for officials, who caution residents to remain vigilant over the next year.
"If you have property or live in the watershed of a burn area, you’re going to have an increased risk of runoff and higher potential for sediment and debris flows," said Jon Frye, engineering manager with the Santa Barbara County Flood Control District.
Three wildfires — Alamo, Whittier and Thomas — burned roughly 330,000 acres on the Central Coast in 2017, damaging tens of thousands of acres of watershed. Burn areas face increased risk of flash floods, debris or mudflow for the next five years, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), as vegetation in the watershed regenerates and soil composition improves.
Frye encourages residents and property owners near burn areas to consider purchasing flood insurance prior to the rains, as policies typically take 30 days to go into effect.
"Any advance preparation should be done now — you don't want to wait," he said. "Whether it’s the Alamo, Whittier or now Thomas fire, we’re highly encouraging people [evaluate] their property and undertake measures that can help them when the rain comes."
While rainfall is integral to regenerating the damaged watershed across the drought-stricken region, Frye said the key to coordinating the winter response will be monitoring weather patterns and rainfall.
"We follow the forecasts and rain events as they occur," Frye said, advising residents that flash floods or mudslides can happen with little notice. "Nobody can predict when or how much will come. It can rain a little and we can be fine, or it can rain a little and things can roll down."