Rain, strong winds and an atmospheric river are bearing down on SLO County

High-flowing Salinas River washes out Halcon Road in Atascadero

A swollen Salinas River flows through the Halcon Road crossing in Atascadero, California, on Feb. 4, 2019, after heavy rains hit the Central Coast for several days.
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A swollen Salinas River flows through the Halcon Road crossing in Atascadero, California, on Feb. 4, 2019, after heavy rains hit the Central Coast for several days.

Relief from the winter deluges will be short — rain and strong winds are forecast to return Wednesday.

And the combination, along with saturated ground, could topple trees around San Luis Obispo County.

Two low-pressure systems — along with “a bit of an atmospheric river” — are expected to move through the Central Coast on Wednesday and Thursday, according to PG&E meteorologist John Lindsey.

Total rainfall amounts on Wednesday are forecast to range from three-quarters of an inch to 1 inch, Lindsey said. Rainfall totals on Thursday are expected to range from three-quarters of an inch to 1.5 inches.

Frigid temperatures turned the deck of the Cayucos Pier frosty this week. The icy weather is giving way to new rounds of rain in the coming days. Danna Dykstra Coy

Another half-inch of rain is forecast on Friday, Lindsey said.

The systems will tap into an atmospheric river, but Northern California is expected to see more of the effects than SLO County: Lindsey said the Big Sur area could see up to 6 inches of rainfall from the systems, while Sonoma and Mendocino counties could see up to 10 inches.

“In meteorological circles, we call it ‘turning on the hose,’” Lindsey said, referring to the atmospheric rivers.

SLO County is expected to see a weak-to-moderate atmospheric river event, Lindsey said.

However, “it’s a very complex system,” and SLO County could potentially see a stronger rainfall than forecast, Lindsey said.

“When you’ve got one low-pressure system and one front it’s a lot easier to try to forecast than multiple (systems),” Lindsey said.

But when two systems move in, as they are expected to this week, “the variables exponentially increase and consequently, the (forecast) models have a much more difficult time trying to predict what’s going to happen.”

Winds on Wednesday are forecast to range between 32 mph and 46 mph with gusts up to 55 mph, Lindsey said. The most powerful winds are expected on Wednesday afternoon.

“The strongest winds are expected to be midday on Wednesday, but it’ll be blowing all day Wednesday into Thursday morning,” Lindsey said. That’s when the greatest risk from falling trees will be.

The National Weather Service issued a wind advisory for SLO County — including San Luis Obispo, Cambria, Pismo Beach, Morro Bay and Paso Robles — that will be in effect from 4 am. Wednesday to 3 p.m. Thursday.

“Winds this strong may down trees and power lines, causing property damage or power outages,” the agency said. “Cross winds can make driving difficult, especially for drivers of high-profile vehicles and vehicles towing trailers.”

Lindsey urged everyone to remember to never touch a downed power line and to keep pets and other people away from them. If you see a downed power line, call 911 and then call PG&E, Lindsey said.

Light showers are anticipated on Saturday and the area could see three-quarters of an inch of rain on Sunday, Lindsey said. Another break in the rain is forecast for next Monday and Tuesday before more wet weather returns next Wednesday.

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Gabby Ferreira is a breaking news and general assignment reporter at The Tribune in San Luis Obispo. A native of Houston, Texas, she was a reporter in Tucson, Arizona; Indianapolis, Indiana; and Palm Springs, California, before moving to San Luis Obispo County in 2016.