The first of this winter’s projected El Niño storms swept through San Luis Obispo County this week, causing lightning strikes, power outages and even a flipped mobile home Wednesday.
The San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport was shut down for much of the day after lightning hit its control tower and short-circuited some equipment.
As high winds and lightning pummeled the county, a series of outages caused by downed power lines left many without power for most of the day. At its peak, more than 5,240 customers were without power in southern San Luis Obispo, Edna Valley and Nipomo, with numerous other areas experiencing spot outages affecting fewer than 10 customers.
By 4 p.m., all but 168 of those had power restored. The rest were expected to have power restored overnight.
But power outages weren’t the worst of the storm’s gifts.
Strong winds ripped a mobile home in rural Paso Robles from its foundation early Wednesday morning, Cal Fire representatives said. The sole occupant of the home on the 1900 block of Hidden Acres Road was able to escape uninjured.
One Cal Fire engine responded, as did Paso Robles Department of Emergency Services personnel.
At least two reported lightning strikes sparked electrical mayhem in the county — one in Atascadero, the other at the airport.
Officials say lightning struck close enough to an Atascadero home shortly after 7 a.m. Wednesday to travel through the electrical wiring and into the garage. The strike sparked a house fire that took 22 firefighters about 25 minutes to contain, according to a department news release, and it caused an unknown amount of damage to the house. No injuries were reported.
At San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport, lightning struck the control tower and possibly a beacon tower sometime before noon, short-circuiting some of the airport’s controls and a generator. The tower was evacuated, and all flights were temporarily put on hold, causing delays that are expected to continue into Thursday. The airport was also one of the customers in southern San Luis Obispo affected by the day’s power outages.
Airport supervisor Craig Piper said he was near the tower when the lightning struck.
“This was a first,” Piper said. “I’ve worked here for 15 years and nothing like this has happened before.”
All flights in and out of the airport were delayed as the facility tried to get the airport’s power back and its control systems working again. Power was restored sometime before 4 p.m., and several scheduled flights were able to arrive and depart.
As of 4 p.m. Wednesday, both American Airlines flights scheduled to leave from the airport that night and early the next morning were canceled. Only one departing United Airlines flight and one arriving flight were canceled at that time, according to the United Airlines flight status website. The rest were all still scheduled to take place.
Piper and other airport representatives did not respond to further requests for comment Wednesday.
More storms on the way
From Tuesday morning through Wednesday evening, the storm system produced 2 inches of rain at Camp San Luis Obispo and nearly 3 inches at Rocky Butte, east of Hearst Castle, according to PG&E meteorologist John Lindsey. The San Luis Obispo and Paso Robles airports each recorded about an inch and a half.
Lindsey said those numbers would increase overnight as more rain and possible thunderstorms continued to move through the county into Thursday morning.
The storm also brought dime-sized hail in Los Osos and reports of possible tornadoes in Paso Robles and Morro Bay on Wednesday, he said.
“It’s really shaped up to have a lot of collective severe weather events throughout the county,” Lindsey said Wednesday evening.
Partly cloudy and dry weather is forecast for Thursday afternoon through Friday, and a cold front will produce increasing southerly winds and showers Saturday afternoon. Total rainfall amounts from that system will likely range between a third and three quarters of an inch.
Dry weather is forecast for Sunday into Monday, but wet and unsettled weather is expected throughout the following week.
Tribune staff writers Kaytlyn Leslie, Matt Fountain and Cynthia Lambert contributed to this report.