Wednesday proved a wet and dreary day, but the most powerful part of the storm is still ahead: On Thursday, the Central Coast could see heavy rain, strong winds and high surf.
“This potentially could be one of the strongest storms we’ve seen in years,” PG&E meteorologist John Lindsey said in a phone interview.
Wednesday was “right on schedule,” with light showers but not much wind or heavy rain, Lindsey said, and most locations received roughly a quarter-inch of precipitation by early afternoon.
As expected, Caltrans closed Highway 1 in two places on the Big Sur coast in preparation for the rain. The scenic road was blocked at noon Wednesday at Mud Creek and Paul’s Slide.
Gates on either side of the two sites were locked and will not be manned during the closure, Caltrans said. The only access to the stretch of Highway 1 in between will be via Nacimiento-Fergusson Road over the coastal mountains from Highway 101.
The closure is part of a new Caltrans policy that begins with a 48-hour warning ahead of potential roadblocks.
Forecast for Thursday
Periods of heavy rain are expected Thursday, with rainfall amounts forecast to fall between 2 and 4 inches, Lindsey said. Rainfall totals are expected to be higher along the Santa Lucia Mountains and the Big Sur coastline, where some spots could see as much as 6 inches.
If, for example, San Luis Obispo receives 4 inches of rain from this storm, “that’s a big percentile of the whole rainfall season,” Lindsey said. San Luis Obispo gets on average around 22 to 24 inches of rain a year, so 4 inches would be close to 20 percent of an average year’s rainfall.
By Thursday morning, the Central Coast will see moderate gale-force to fresh gale-force southwesterly winds that will blow at speeds ranging from 32 to 36 mph, Lindsey said. There will also be a high westerly swell that will peak Thursday afternoon at 17 to 19 feet, Lindsey said.
High surf on the way
The National Weather Service has issued a high surf advisory in effect until 10 a.m. Thursday, and a high surf warning that will be in effect from 10 a.m. Thursday to 10 a.m. Friday.
A high surf advisory means high surf will affect beaches in the area by producing dangerous swimming conditions and erosion, while a high surf warning means dangerous, battering waves will pound the shoreline and create life-threatening conditions, according to the National Weather Service.
The National Weather Service said the surf is expected to reach 10 to 18 feet through Thursday morning, with a secondary swell bringing surf between 20 to 24 feet from late Thursday morning through Friday morning.
The conditions mean there’s an increased risk of drowning, the agency cautioned. Anyone caught in a rip current should relax and float, and avoid swimming against the current.
“If able, swim in a direction following the shoreline,” the National Weather Service said. “If unable to escape, face the shore and call or wave for help.”
Morro Bay prepares
“We’re expecting some of the biggest waves I’d imagine we’ll see this winter on Thursday,” Morro Bay Harbor Patrol Officer Dana Stein told The Tribune in a phone interview.
Stein said they’re preparing for the storm by ensuring boats in the harbor are properly secured and watching out for surfers and other people in the water.
“We’re going through the harbor making sure the boats are tied up well, if they’re on moorings making sure they’ve got good, strong pennant lines on them,” Stein said. “We’re making sure boats tied to docks or piers have good tie-up lines and adding stuff if needed, and contacting the owners to let them know.”
Stein said the harbor patrol and the Coast Guard will stand by, watching for boats coming in and out of the harbor during the storm and making sure those boats enter or leave the harbor safely. The Harbor Patrol will also be on the lookout for surfers in the harbor, and will be out in a boat to pick anyone up who needs help.
The Harbor Patrol will also keep an eye on any surfers heading toward the beach break near Morro Rock.
“Anyone we see throwing a wet suit on, we question how much experience they have with this,” Stein said. “Any surfers worth their salt wouldn’t go out there.”
The storm system is forecast to peak around 1 p.m. Thursday, Lindsey said, but “it’s going to be stormy all day Thursday. There isn’t a wall in the system.”
Lindsey said this storm is reminiscent of what the area used to see a long time ago.
“It’s definitely a pretty strong storm,” Lindsey said. “It’s been a while since we had any really intense storm systems like this.”