‘Atmospheric river’ to soak SLO County with up to 6 inches of rain

A storm headed for the Central Coast could drop as much as 6 inches of rain on San Luis Obispo County by Thursday, according to PG&E meteorologist John Lindsey.

A deep upper-level low-pressure system moving toward the Central Coast is forecast to tap into a large plume of subtropical moisture and create an "atmospheric river," which will bring strong to gale-force winds between 25 and 38 mph as well as moderate to heavy rain, Lindsey said.

"We're very worried and concerned," Lindsey said. "It's good to be prepared now, get prepared before the storm hits." Lindsey added that the forecast models have been consistent in predicting heavy rainfall for the area.

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"This is easily the most rain this season," he said.

Rain is forecast to last from Tuesday morning into Thursday. According to the National Weather Service, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties will see the heaviest rain from Wednesday afternoon through Thursday morning.

Rainfall totals in that time for San Luis Obispo County are forecast to be between 4 and 6 inches, Lindsey said. In the recent burn areas of Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, rainfall totals could be between 4 and 8 inches.

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The rain is predicted to "bring a threat of significant flash flooding and mud and debris flows to recent burn areas," the NWS said. "While there is some uncertainty in the positioning of heaviest rainfall with this system, areas under the heaviest rainfall are projected to see rainfall rates ranging between 0.50 and 0.75 inch per hour."

The agency added that there is a 20 percent chance rainfall rates could reach 1 inch per hour, and 1 to 2 inches of rain in a three-hour period are possible.

In advance of the storm, Santa Barbara County emergency officials issued a mandatory evacuation order Monday for all residents in high and extreme risk areas below the wildfire burn areas. Residents were told to be out of their homes by Tuesday at noon.

The San Luis Obispo County Office of Emergency Services urged residents to prepare for the storm, and cautioned that no area is immune to flash flooding.

The office also reminded residents that they should not rely on emergency response agencies like fire departments or public works to be available to assist during significant weather events, since those agencies may have to prioritize calls based on urgency.

The Santa Barbara Humane Society announced Monday it will offer free emergency boarding for dogs and cats on Monday and Tuesday. Evacuees can arrive as early as 8 a.m., but the organization asks anyone arriving after 5 p.m. to call first at 805-964-4777. If you are unable to evacuate your animals, call 805-964-4332 for assistance.

The city of San Luis Obispo announced Monday morning that it will provide sand for sandbags ahead of the storm but asks that community members bring their own shovels and bags. Bags can be found at local hardware stores.

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The city will provide sand at the following locations:

▪  City Corp Yard, 25 Prado Road.

▪  Laguna Lake Golf Course, 11175 Los Osos Valley Road.

▪  Sinsheimer Park parking lot.

▪  Santa Rosa Park.

Sand will also be available at locations around SLO County, including:

▪  Atascadero Fire Station 1, 6005 Lewis Ave.

▪  Heritage Ranch, CSD Maintenance Yard at 4870 Heritage Road, Paso Robles.

▪  Behind Nipomo Community Service office on West Dana Street.

▪  Old County Road and Florence Street in Templeton.

▪  Oceano Community Service District office on Front Street, 22nd Street and Highway 1.

▪  Highway 58 near Wilhelmina Avenue in Santa Margarita.

▪  City of Arroyo Grande Corporation Yard, 1375 Ash St.

▪  City of Grover Beach Corporation Yard, 1150 Farroll Ave.

▪  13th and Warner streets, and 22nd Street at the Arroyo Grande Creek Bridge in Oceano.

Sand may also be picked up at the community services district offices in Avila Beach, Los Osos, San Simeon, Cambria and San Miguel, but residents are urged to contact the office beforehand to confirm there is sand available.

Here are some tips on how to prepare for the storm, from John Lindsey and the county Office of Emergency Services:

▪  Have battery-operated flashlights and radios ready, along with fresh batteries.

▪  Keep your cellphone charged and have a portable charger handy.

▪  If you have a cordless phone or answering machine that uses electricity, have a standard telephone or cellphone handy as backup.

▪  Freeze plastic containers filled with water to make ice blocks that can be put in the freezer or refrigerator during an outage.

▪  Downed power lines should be considered active. Stay away from them and call 911 to report their location.

▪  If you have a generator, make sure it's installed safely.

▪ If you live in a flood prone area, pickup and install sandbags ahead of time.

▪  Check roof drains to make sure they are clear.

▪  Consider buying a weather alert radio to receive urgent weather messages.

Editor's note: This article has been updated to include information from the county Office of Emergency Services and additional sand pickup locations.