Evacuation warnings issued as storm brings heavy rain to SoCal

Gov. Newsom issued a state of emergency for California to help with the response and recovery efforts to the large winter storm.

ByIrene Cruz, Tim Pulliam, and ABC7.com staff KABC logo
Wednesday, January 4, 2023
Storm to bring heavy rain to SoCal, prompting evacuation warnings
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Evacuation warnings have been issued for Southern California communities hit by wildfires over the last two years as a powerful weather system sweeps in.

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Another powerful weather system is sweeping into California this week, bringing a possibly deadly storm to the Bay Area and potential flooding to Southern California.

Evacuation warnings are being issued for multiple Southern California communities that have experienced wildfires in the last two years, as the National Weather Service predicts flooding is possible over a wide swath of the region.

In Santa Barbara County, mandatory evacuation orders were issued for residents in the burn areas of the Thomas, Alisal and Cave fires.

Among the towns ordered to evacuate was Montecito, where five years ago huge boulders, mud and debris swept down mountains through the town to the shoreline, killing 23 people and destroying more than 100 homes. The town is home to many celebrities, including Oprah Winfrey and Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan.

SoCal could see up to three inches of rain fall in an intense downpour Wednesday night into Thursday morning, leading to potential flooding and dangerously high waves at the beach. Winds in the deserts will reach dangerous speeds around 60-65 mph, bringing them just a little short of hurricane power.

The northern part of the state will see even more dangerous weather conditions. Meteorologists from our sister station KGO-TV in San Francisco forecast winds up to 60 mph with heavy rain, expected to knock down trees and power poles while also triggering mudslides and flooding. The National Weather Service is warning of a potential loss of human life caused by the storm.

RELATED | What to know about SoCal's 'bomb cyclone'

Evacuation warnings issued

Southern California communities that have seen significant wildfires over the last two years are being warned to prepare for potentials flows of mud and debris during this week's storm.

An evacuation warning has been issued for the Lake Hughes and Kings Canyon areas because of possible mud flows from Wednesday through Friday. The warning means residents are advised to be prepared to possibly evacuate on short notice. That includes gathering up vital supplies and documents and listening closely to forecasts and alerts.

Additional warnings have been issued for areas still recovering from the 2020 Lake Fire and the north end of the Bobcat Fire. Evacuation warnings were in place for those areas from 1 p.m. Wednesday through 6 a.m. Friday.

County officials are urging people to protect their homes and businesses with sandbags.

Los Angeles County is forecasting what it calls a possible "Phase 2" mudflow for about a dozen areas hit by fires since 2020.

Those areas include La Tuna Canyon, which saw the Land Fire in September 2022 and the city of Duarte, which saw the Fish Fire in June 2022. Other burn-scar areas that saw wildfires in 2020 and are still facing potential danger can be found at this link.

LA County describes a Phase 2 forecast as: "Moderate debris and mudflows possible at more widespread locations. Some streets may be completely blocked by debris. Depending on location and terrain, some structures may be endangered, in addition to those advised to be prepared to evacuate with any forecast of rain."

The National Weather Service says flooding is possible over large swaths of Southern California. "Flash Flood WATCH in effect over ALL of southwest California. A lot of water is coming. Areas of most concern of significant flooding include roads, streams, and recent burn areas," the service tweeted.

The storm is also likely to bring 2-5 feet of snow to the Sierras in central California, providing a helpful boost to the state's water supply left low by years of drought.

On Wednesday morning, California declared a state of emergency to help with response and recovery efforts to the winter storm moving across the state.

According to a tweet from Gov. Newsom's office, the proclamation will allow the state to respond quickly to support local governments in their ongoing response.

Southern California won't be hit quite so hard as the Bay Area, but will still see strong storm conditions, including dangerously high waves and rip currents at the beaches.

The rain started in Southern California at a lighter pace during the daytime Wednesday, and it is expected to turn into a heavy downpour in the overnight hours. At times, up to an inch of rain per hour could fall overnight.

Full forecast from ABC7 here.

Thursday morning will be a difficult and potentially dangerous commute on many roads across the Southland.

A flood watch has been issued for much of the region, especially areas still recovering from wildfires.

A high wind watch has also been issued for Ventura County lasting through early Thursday morning.

A beach hazard warning has also been issued, saying waves of 10-14 are possible off Orange County and San Diego as well as Ventura County.

Local communities in Southern California are preparing for the storm, particularly in vulnerable areas such as beachside communities and areas scarred by wildfires.

"We're worried about three factors mainly," said Lt. Chris Pierce with the Seal Beach Marine Safety Department. "It's gonna be rain coming down that will saturate the ground. It'll be surf that's gonna push additional water up onto the already saturated ground, in combination with the already-high tides."

In Duarte, an area burned by the Fish Fire, city crews erected K-rails near homes as a precaution. The area has seen mudslides during significant rain events since that fire burned in 2016.

In Los Angeles, Laurel Canyon Boulevard was Wednesday morning so that crews could put up K-rails and make other preparations for possible flooding.

The heavy rain will taper off just in time for the weekend, but more rain is expected to hit Southern California early next week.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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