LOS ANGELES – Authorities ordered tens of thousands of people to flee their homes as a powerful storm was on the way to California, where many municipalities on Tuesday, faced with the threat of flooding and devastating debris flows in areas burned bare by huge forest fires.
An atmospheric river — a huge plume of subtropical moisture aimed at the state of the central and southern coast, where the wealthy community of Montecito near Santa Barbara is still trying to recover from a January storm that unleashed mudslides from a large burn area, swamping the homes and killing 21 people.
The storm was expected to arrive during the night and last through Thursday, 2 to 5 inches (5 to 13 centimeters) of rain in the coastal areas and valleys, and 5 to 10 inches (13 to 25 centimeters) in the hills and mountains, the National Weather Service said.
The authorities told as many as 30,000 people from the communities on the south coast of Santa Barbara County, where mudslides from a Jan. 9 flood destroyed or damaged hundreds of homes in Montecito, 21 people were killed and two children missing. Authorities also ordered evacuations in parts of neighboring Ventura County.
Many residents of both provinces have faced repeated evacuations or advisories since December, when a wind-driven fire grew to be the largest in recorded state history. It scorched more than 440 square miles (1,140 square km), destroyed 1,063 buildings and damaged 280 others.
That blaze and the previous fire dating to mid-2016 set-up of the potential for extreme danger of storms.
Montecito resident Molly Rosecrance said that she now keeps emergency rations and clothing in the trunk of her car.
“I’m tired of moving,” she told the Santa Barbara news station KEYT-TV on Monday. “So if there is something that comes from a result, I can get my house for two weeks. I have groceries in the car to take to a friend’s house and clothes.”
The National Weather Service said, forecasting models of the atmospheric river indicated the first 24 to 36 hours after the storm would target south of Santa Barbara County, western Ventura County and continues along the coast in San Luis Obispo County.
No evacuations were ordered elsewhere, but with burn scars spread across the entire state, authorities urged people to prepare for the storm and made sandbags available. Away from the coast, flash flood watches were in effect Wednesday for areas of the Sierra Nevada and the mountains in the interior of Southern California.
Along with the dangers, the storm had the potential to help boost water supplies in the central coastal region, where droughts have recently gone back to extreme or severe levels.
In the Sierra, where the snowpack is an important portion of the state of the water flow, U. S. Drought Monitor classifications range from abnormally dry to moderate drought. The most recent state of the measurement of the snowpack found its water content is 39 percent of normal at the beginning of this month, before the storm brought blizzard conditions and even avalanche danger.