Evacuation orders for areas below the Whittier, Sherpa and Thomas fire burn areas were lifted at 6 p.m. Tuesday as the powerful storm predicted to strike Santa Barbara County moved through rapidly and failed to deliver the deluge expected.
Roads in those areas were closed Tuesday morning as law enforcement officers, fire crews and first responders prepared for possible debris flows in the same areas that were heavily damaged a year ago.
By 10 a.m. Tuesday, a large number of Montecito residences and pockets of homes in Summerland, Carpinteria and areas west of Goleta were vacated in anticipation of the significant storms that had been predicted.
At 6 p.m., residents of those areas were told they could return to their homes, but they were advised to remain vigilant and to monitor emergency alerts in case the situation changes again.
Periods of moderate to heavy rain were still possible Tuesday night and into Wednesday morning, according to the County Office of Emergency Management, and another storm is forecast to arrive Wednesday night.
But OEM officials said Wednesday's storm is forecast to have rainfall rates below debris flow thresholds.
Rainfall intensities between 0.75 and 1.25 inches per hour — greater than the U.S. Geological Survey's debris flow threshold — had been predicted for the burn areas.
But only light rain hit the county, although brief localized heavy downpours were reported.
National Weather Service forecasters characterized the storm as a "very strong and dynamic" system capable of producing heavy rains and isolated thunderstorms across the Central Coast.
Meteorologist Kristen Stewart said the system, fueled by a region of low pressure, tapped into tropical moisture that would "roll in storm after storm."
Tuesday's storm was expected to bring 0.5 to 1.5 inches of rain to northern Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties, and 1.5 to 3 inches of rain to southern Santa Barbara and Ventura counties.
Actual 24-hour rainfall at 6 p.m. Tuesday ranged from 0.04 of an inch at Twitchell Reservoir and 0.07 of an inch in Santa Maria to 0.83 of an inch in Santa Ynez and 0.84 of an inch in Lompoc.
The highest total was recorded in the mountains south of Lompoc, where 2.05 inches fell, according to county officials.
"It's not as intense as we were expecting," Stewart said. "We're not seeing extremely heavy downpours, which is good for the burn areas, but our concerns remain."
A high surf advisory for the region has been extended through 8 p.m. Friday, with low-lying areas at risk of coastal flooding.
Santa Barbara County officials also warned residents high winds accompanying the storm had the potential to knock out electric service and urged county residents and businesses to prepare for outages.
Only two localized power outages were reported by 6 p.m.