The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office has issued a mandatory evacuation order for individuals below last year's wildfire burn areas, effective at noon Tuesday.
The order comes as what meteorologists describe as the strongest storm this season heads toward the Central Coast.
According to an alert, those in "Extreme Risk" and "High Risk" areas — red, yellow and gray areas on the Debris Flow Risk Map — near the Thomas, Sherpa and Whittier fire burn areas must be out of the evacuation areas by noon. Those in this area should consider an immediate evacuation. Owners of large livestock in these risk areas should also consider relocating their animals immediately.
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Individuals in the Alamo burn area near Santa Maria are in a "Recommended Evacuation Warning" area.
According to the National Weather Service, this storm is projected to have the heaviest rainfall and the longest duration of rainfall this winter storm season.
In a press conference Monday, Santa Barbara County Office of Emergency Services Director Rob Lewin urged residents to adhere to all evacuation orders.
"This storm is not the storm to question," he said. "Those mountains are locked and loaded with debris."
He said it could also cause flooding outside of the areas impacted by last year's wildfires.
“We could experience localized flooding and road closures which are not isolated to the burn areas. The threat of rock falls, mudslides and debris flow is high,” he said.
Meteorological models by the National Weather Service show a potential for rainfall of between 0.5 and 0.75 inches per hour, which could trigger debris flows during the storm.
The storm is also expected to bring between 5 and 10 inches of rain in the foothills and mountains —significantly more than the storm that prompted a massive mudslide Jan. 9, according to the alert.
To determine whether a residence or business is in the evacuation area, consult the evacuation boundaries map at ReadySBC.org or call 211.
The Red Cross will open an evacuation center at Earl Warren Showgrounds, Warren Hall, 3400 Calle Real, Santa Barbara at noon Tuesday.
For assistance evacuating large and small animals, contact Santa Barbara County Animal Services hotline at 805-681-4332.
California Highway Patrol, the National Weather Service and public safety partners will monitor storm activity to ensure Highway 101 remains open to facilitate resident evacuations, according to the alert. If Highway 101 needs to be closed, CHP would do so just prior to the arrival of the intense portion of the storm.
CHP Capt. Cindy Ponte said in a press conference Tuesday that people should avoid driving in the area during the storm.
"The last thing we want is for someone to be caught in a debris flow or stranded on the 101," she said.
Community members should go to ReadySBC.org for up-to-date information on evacuations and road closures.