A rare lightning storm that electrified Central Coast skies on Tuesday night transitioned into a day of heavy rain as another round of persistent wet weather barreled through California.
“It was a tremendous lightning storm,” PG&E meteorologist John Lindsey said Wednesday morning.
At one point, meteorologists recorded about 1,500 lightning pulses in 5 minutes in the Southern California area, and the National Weather Service’s Los Angeles station said in a tweet that the region, including SLO, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles and Ventura counties, received about 4,500 lightning strikes, including nearly 2,500 cloud-to-ground strikes.
Mike Eliason, a public information officer for the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, captured stunning photos of the lightning over Santa Barbara.
“Of course we get lightning and thunder now and then. That’s not unusual. But to see that many lightning strikes is really unusual,” Lindsey said.
The last time San Luis Obispo County saw a show like that was in July 2015, Lindsey noted.
“That’s something you see off the coast of Florida, but out here you just don’t see that very often,” Lindsey said. “It is a pretty rare event.”
At its height, the storm knocked out power to hundreds of SLO County residents Tuesday night, though it was mostly restored by Wednesday morning.
The CHP reported multiple car crashes and a downed tree Wednesday morning as rain continued to pour.
In Atascadero, the Fire Department and CHP responded Wednesday afternoon to a report of five people, five dogs and a cat stranded on an island in the Salinas River. Firefighters waded across the river and brought all safely to shore.
On the coast, Highway 1 between Mud Creek and Paul’s Slide in Big Sur will remain closed until further notice due to “significant slide activity” in both areas, Caltrans said Wednesday in an emailed news release.
“Crews inspected all areas earlier today and found several potentially unstable perched boulders that have been working their way down the mountain at both locations,” the agency said in an email.
The south approach of Mud Creek, within the section of highway closed off by locked gates, has dipped down by one to two feet since the storm began on Tuesday, Caltrans said. The area has seen a “total of three to five feet vertical displacement since last Thursday, Feb. 28.”
To the north, mud is flowing off the hillside in the Paul’s Slide area, and the temporary guardrail is “reaching full capacity,” Caltrans said.
“Caltrans maintenance crews and contractor John Madonna are performing herculean efforts to clear the roadway as quickly as possible,” Caltrans said in the emailed release.
Caltrans crews will assess the road Thursday and provide an update by that afternoon, the agency said.
By Wednesday night, heavy rain was expected to taper into showers with the possibility for more thunderstorms, Lindsey said.
“There’s no way in the world it will be as strong as what happened last night,” Lindsey said. “But I see thunderstorms moving across the Pacific at a really fast clip toward us; there’s at least a pretty decent chance (of thunderstorms).”
Scattered showers are also forecast for Thursday, Lindsey said.
A brief break in the wet weather is expected after that, with partly cloudy skies and strong to gale-force northwesterly winds at speeds ranging from 25 to 38 mph forecast to develop from Friday into Saturday, Lindsey said.
Rain showers also may develop Friday afternoon. More rain is in the forecast from Sunday into Monday, Lindsey said.
As of 1 p.m. Wednesday, Rocky Butte had received 3 inches of rain in 36 hours, Arroyo Grande recorded 1.25 inches, Cal Poly received 1.52 inches, and Atascadero tallied 1 inch, Lindsey said.
“Areas south got about what was forecasted, while areas north received less than what was expected,” Lindsey said.
Here’s how much rain was reported at various spots across the area:
36-hour rainfall totals as of 1 p.m. Wednesday (in inches)
Arroyo Grande (SLOCountyWater.org)
Arroyo Grande, South Halcyon Road
Avila Valley (PG&E Energy Education Center)
Camp San Luis
Creston at Humbug Vineyards
Davis Peak (SLOCountyWater.org)
Hog Canyon (SLOCountyWater.org)
Lopez Dam (SLOCountyWater.org)
Lopez Recreation Area (SLOCountyWater.org)
Los Osos at Cottontail Lane
Los Osos (SLOCountyWater.org)
Morro Bay Yacht Club
Paso Robles Municipal Airport
Paso Robles, Union Road & Riverglen Drive
Santa Maria Public Airport
Source: John Lindsey, PG&E