SLO County endures more heavy rainfall, flooding — but relief is on the way

The Halcon Road crossing over the Salinas River was washed out by the flow of the river on Thursday, March 22, 2018.
The Halcon Road crossing over the Salinas River was washed out by the flow of the river on Thursday, March 22, 2018.

Authorities rescued 10 people from the Salinas River in Paso Robles on Thursday as heavy rainfall continued across San Luis Obispo County, causing more flooding, car crashes and rock slides on the North Coast.

While the Central Coast experienced one of the highest 24-hour rainfall totals since December 2010 on Wednesday night into Thursday morning, PG&E meteorologist John Lindsey said the rain would "come to an abrupt end" at about 8 p.m. Thursday.

And in Santa Barbara County, the mandatory evacuation orders for communities below the Thomas, Whittier and Sherpa fire burn areas — as well as the evacuation warning for the Alamo Fire burn area — were officially lifted at 5 p.m. Thursday.

The multi-day storm caused no debris flows or major flooding in those areas, officials said.

"We dodged a bullet when this storm did not reach its full potential," Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said in a press conference Thursday afternoon.

There were still some close calls.

Between 8:45 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Thursday, the Paso Robles Fire Department and the California Highway Patrol pulled 10 people from the Salinas River as heavy rain turned the channel into a muddy torrent.

Six were airlifted to safety by a CHP helicopter, while the other four were rescued by firefighters who swam out and brought them to shore, according to fire chief Jonathan Stornetta.

Stornetta said these were the most rescues his department has ever performed in one day. The department visited the riverbed on Monday to warn people in advance of the storm, but the speed of the rising water on Thursday still caught some unprepared.

Two people were transported to the hospital for treatment. Firefighters also saved one dog, while another died during the rescue efforts.

Rainfall totals

By 3 p.m. Thursday, nearly 20 locations around San Luis Obispo County had received at least 4 inches of rain in the previous 48 hours, Lindsey said. Rocky Butte near San Simeon led the way with 10.50 inches of rain, according to

More than 3.6 inches of rain was recorded at the San Luis Obispo County Airport, while Arroyo Grande (2.76 inches), Atascadero (3.80), Los Osos (5.20), Paso Robles (4.22) and Templeton (5.36) all received significant rainfall.

"Two weeks ago, San Luis Obispo was at about 30 percent of average rainfall," Lindsey said. "Today, it's increased to 61 percent of normal."

Friday will see strong- to gale-force northwesterly winds and dry weather, but there will be areas of dense ground fog and mist, especially in the inland valleys, due to all the moisture left over from the storm, Lindsey said.

A weak cold front is forecast to move through the area Saturday, causing rain showers and increasing clouds from Saturday into Sunday morning. Rainfall amounts with this system are predicted to remain below a quarter-inch, Lindsey said.

Closures in South County

Because of flooding and heavy rain in South County this week, State Parks announced closures at Pismo State Beach and the Oceano Dune State Vehicular Recreation Area.

Pismo State Beach North Beach Campground will be closed until the water recedes, the area is safe and park operations and services can be restored to normal, according to the announcement.

Intermittent closures may also be necessary at the Oceano Dunes SVRA, as large amounts of water created actively flowing creek conditions on the beach.

North Coast rock slides

Near Cambria on Thursday, Highway 1 was closed at two locations between Ragged Point and Paul's Slide, according to Caltrans.

The road was closed from Nacimiento-Ferguson Road to Paul's Slide, as a result of rocks in the roadway, Susana Cruz of Caltrans wrote in a press release. That covers a stretch of roughly 3 miles north to Paul’s Slide, roughly 21 miles north of the Monterey County line.

The debris is at the Chimney Slide, 20 miles north of the county line, where the road was closed once earlier this month. It remained active Thursday morning, Cruz said in a follow-up email.

The new Chimney slide activity followed another incident of rocks in the road Wednesday, which closed the highway from Ragged Point (near the San Luis Obispo-Monterey county line) to Gorda. Previously, the road had been open north of Ragged Point to Salmon Creek, where it has been closed while Caltrans works to rebuild a section of highway demolished in last year’s Mud Creek slide.

The highway is expected to reopen at both locations Friday morning, Cruz said, after the current storm has passed and conditions have been assessed.

Santa Barbara County

The biggest news to come from Santa Barbara County officials Thursday was the announcement that mandatory evacuation orders were lifted, coinciding with the end of the National Weather Service's flash flood warning.

All schools were planning to be open as usual on Friday.

"For the most part the area has been spared, and very fortunately," National Weather Service meteorologist Mark Jackson said.

The storm was "on its last gasp" as of 4 p.m., though there was the possibility of more showers throughout the evening and into early Friday, he said.

The additional rainfall was not expected to produce anything more than minor debris flows, Jackson added.

Debris basins and creek channels that were clogged in the Jan. 9 Montecito mudslides were cleared and able to handle the flow of rainfall this week, the county said.

No major incidents were reported Thursday, although there was widespread roadway flooding and minor vehicle collisions.

Tribune staff writers Lindsey Holden, Gabby Ferreira, Monica Vaughan and Stephen Provost contributed to this report. also contributed to this report.