As the Central Coast continues to recover from the most significant storm in seven years, officials are marveling over the speed at which the water level is rising at Cachuma Lake, as well as at rainfall totals across the region.
On Thursday, before the brunt of the deluge hit the area Friday, the lake in the Santa Ynez Valley was at 18-percent capacity. By Monday. Cachuma had reached nearly 40-percent capacity, which translates to a 31-foot rise in water elevation.
The lake was one of the last areas in the state to be categorized as being in "extreme drought" before Friday's storm.
“It really came up quite a bit, which is wonderful news,” said John Lindsey, Pacific Gas and Electric Co. meteorologist, noting that on Feb. 6, the lake was at 13.6-percent capacity.
Jon Frye, Santa Barbara County's Flood Control & Water Conservation District engineering manager, said that from a water supply standpoint there could be nothing better than the increasing water level.
“Though the lake is still not even half full, we’ll continue to see rising elevations in the weeks to come," he said. "That’s how the watershed system works: It takes rain and runoff a long time to find itself through the system and into the lake.”
National Weather Service specialist Bonnie Bartling said that, “On a special note, the county has exceeded what we’d call the annual amount.”
This means that based on normal water-year averages, Santa Barbara County has exceeded typical annual rainfall by 123 percent, and it's only February.
Looking at normal-to-date rainfall averages for the month of February, the county has exceeded typical rainfall totals by 183 percent, according to the Flood Control District.
Bartling said that the heaviest hit areas of the county Thursday through Monday were in the mountains and on the South Coast, with some mountain areas receiving over 10 inches of rain. San Marcos Pass reportedly received 9.91 inches, while Gibralter Dam had over 9 inches. The South Coast received an average of 9.33 inches.
In the North County, the National Weather Service reported Lompoc received an average of 4.56 inches and Santa Ynez Valley averaged 4.44 inches.
Santa Maria Airport received 2.90 inches from Thursday through Saturday, while the Santa Ynez Airport received 4.89 inches during that time, according to Lindsey.
“The annual rainfall for Santa Maria Airport is 13.95 inches,” Bartling said. “Here we’ve exceeded the annual amount. Since Jan. 1, (Santa Maria) has gotten 10.74 inches.”
Frye said that from a county perspective, the Flood Control District is “seeing typical things that you see when storms of this magnitude come through.”
“Probably a high priority for us is the Santa Maria River levee,” Frye said. “We’ve been continuously patrolling the levee, and as the flows have been receding we discovered a small area of concern on the south levee west of Bonita School Road.”
Frye said a contractor was mobilized to bring in equipment and rock to reinforce the area of concern.
He added, “County road crews have a lot of downed trees they’re responding to.”
As of Monday it was too early to tell exactly how much damage the county incurred as a result of the most recent storm, officials said, and the situation is continuing to be assessed.
“Our Office of Emergency Management is trying to gather data from everything, and assessing whether or not there was enough damage to proclaim a state of emergency,” said Gina DePinto, communications director for Santa Barbara County.
“There’s definitely been an impact, but we don’t know if it qualifies for disaster,” DePinto said. “We’re still assessing and looking at that.”
As of Monday afternoon, Black Road between Stowell and Betteravia in Santa Maria was the only remaining road closure resulting from weather conditions.
Mark Mesesan, communications principal for PG&E, said Monday morning that approximately 2,200 customers in San Luis Obispo and northern Santa Barbara counties remained without power as a result of the storm.
“The current single-largest impact (was) in the Corbett Canyon Road area off of Highway 227, east of Arroyo Grande,” Mesesan said. “There are about 560 customers in that vicinity who have been without power since Friday night, due to falling trees, which brought down nine poles on Friday, and another overnight (Sunday) night.”
“Friday’s heavy rain and wind, combined with additional rain and gusty winds which continued over the weekend into (Monday) morning have continued to present significant challenges for our crews in the field,” he said.
The National Weather Service predicts a tamer system that began Sunday and is expected to continue into Tuesday or Wednesday will bring less rain but stronger winds.
“There will be light rainfall amounts,” Bartling said. “Right now it looks more coastal, but it could be sort of anywhere, probably tapering off sometime (Tuesday) morning for northern areas.”
“There’s a wind advisory out for the Central Coast and Santa Barbara mountains until 6 a.m. Tuesday,” she added. “We’re looking at gusts up to 40 miles per hour."