The first in a series of strong winter storms hit the North Coast Tuesday, with rain, wind and landslides that prompted Caltrans to close Highway 1 for a 42-mile stretch from Ragged Point to the Coast Gallery south of Big Sur.
According to Caltrans spokesman Colin Jones, crews began inspecting and cleaning up the areas starting at daybreak Wednesday. But with rain in the forecast for the meteorologically foreseeable future, Jones advised that people avoid unnecessary travel and take the normal precautions for heavily stormy weather.
Cambria Fire Department officials say sand is available at Shamel Park, Lampton Park and the Rodeo Grounds area, but people will need to bring their own sandbags.
“This is a good time to check your ‘go bag’ of things you’d need to take with you in an emergency and have that bag by the door, in case of flooding or falling trees,” said Shirley Bianchi, chairwoman of the Cambria FireSafe Focus Group.
According to Santa Rosa Creek Road rancher Dawn Dunlap, Rocky Butte had gotten more than 5 inches by 6 a.m. Wednesday, and her ranch had been dowsed with more than 3 inches. “And this is just the start of it,” she said, with heavy rain expected over the weekend.
Rain is expected to stop briefly Thursday, with another storm due Thursday night and several more waves of rain expected through Monday and beyond, according to a phone interview Wednesday morning with PG&E meteorologist John Lindsey.
He said extended forecasts show off-and-on rain at least through Jan. 19.
Those waves of rain could be torrents at times. Lindsey, Jones, fire officials and others warned of the possibility of localized flooding and other issues related to heavy downpours, including winds versus trees with shallow roots in oversaturated soil. Falling trees often bring down power lines, so people should be prepared.
Lindsey said rainfall levels could be “way, way above average” in January. He predicted that Rocky Butte could see an additional 10 inches or more of rainfall by Monday, with lesser amounts falling on the Cambria-San Simeon area. He said, “We should get a break from the storms on Tuesday (Jan. 10), then more gusty southerly winds and rain Wednesday through Friday,” Jan. 11 through 13.
Until now, officials hadn’t seen “the runoff we’d normally see with these kinds of rainstorms,” Lindsey said, “which is an indication of how incredibly dry things were” before the recent rains began.
However, a county road-crew employee who was clearing rocks off San Simeon Creek Road chatted with Bianchi about 10 a.m. Wednesday. He told her that on his way up that road to check conditions, the creek level at the low spot in the roadway had been about 4 feet below the road grade. Soon thereafter, when he came back down, he said the water already had risen to about 6 inches below the road.
Hearst Castle remained open Wednesday morning, with tours in “inclement weather” mode, according to Dan Falat, superintendent of the State Park district that includes the Castle. Throughout the stormy period, he and his staff will constantly assess the conditions, especially with regard to public safety.