A winter storm that is on track to hit Southern California on Thursday is expected to bring steady rain to the region and has authorities in areas devastated by deadly fires and mudslides on alert.
The heaviest rainfall near the massive burn scars in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties is expected Thursday evening and in the predawn hours Friday, said Curt Kaplan, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Oxnard. Flat areas could see an inch of rain, and two to three inches on ocean-facing mountain slopes is possible.
"It looks like a pretty significant storm, honestly," Kaplan said.
In Santa Barbara County, which is still recovering from January mudslides that killed 21 people, authorities are urging residents in some areas to evacuate ahead of the storm. Forecasters say the storm could dump one-third to two-thirds of an inch of rain per hour at certain points, which could be enough to trigger mud and debris flows near burn areas.
The Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office has recommended that residents in parts of Goleta, Santa Barbara, Montecito, Summerland and Carpinteria evacuate starting at 8 a.m. Wednesday. The county has created an interactive map that shows which neighborhoods are at risk.
Residents who live near or below mountains burned by the Thomas, Sherpa and Whittier burn areas are "strongly recommended to relocate to safer locations for their own safety," the county said in an advisory issued Tuesday.
The prospect of yet more mud left Montecito resident John Beck feeling overwhelmed Wednesday. "I'm going to wait till tomorrow before I decide to leave," he said as he sat down on a wooden chair in his living room. "Nobody knows what's going to happen."
The 75-year-old has lived in his white wooden house on Olive Mill Road for the last six years. Because he lived in the voluntary evacuation zone during January's deadly mudslide, he thought he didn't need to evacuate. "I figured we would get some water and a little mud, but no one expected that enormity," Beck said.
Kaplan said National Weather Service meteorologists are in "constant contact" with authorities and emergency managers in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties as the storm moves in from the northwest.
The storm will likely bring a "steady rain," but forecasters, so far, do not anticipate the same level of intense downpours that were seen during the Jan. 9 storm that ripped away homes in Montecito, Kaplan said.
That storm poured half an inch of rain on Montecito in just five minutes.
"The last one we had, which was obviously devastating, was a short time but a heavy, heavy rain," Kaplan said. "It was basically a five-minute deluge that really dumped on the hills of Montecito. We'll see some higher rates but nothing like we saw in those short bursts on Jan. 9."
Still, he said, the storm is expected to bring a significant amount of rain, which poses the threat of flooding and mud and debris flow near recent burn areas.
Like many others in his Montecito neighborhood, Ken Diebold didn't evacuate during January's mudslide because he thought he was far enough away from the burn area and his house was in a voluntary evacuation zone. Their Olive Mill Road home was inundated however, and he was forced to escape through a window with his wife and three children.
"I'm never going to do that to my family again. My wife told me we can't live anywhere near an evacuation zone, so we are renting a house five miles away," Diebold said Wednesday.
Regional snow levels should lower to 5,000 to 6,000 feet, and up to a foot of snow is expected at higher elevations, according to the weather service.
The storm system likely will die down by Friday, but cloudy skies, cool temperatures and showers are possible throughout the day Saturday.
Another, weaker storm is on track to move into Southern California by the middle of next week, forecasters said.
Northern California mountain areas are expected to get several feet of snow from Wednesday through Saturday, making driving treacherous. The snow is expected to reach the Interstate 80 corridor in the Sierra Nevada by Wednesday afternoon, according to the weather service.
By 2 a.m. Friday, snow levels will be as low as 1,500 feet.
Donner Pass, Carson Pass, Ebbetts Pass and Sonora Pass in the Sierra Nevada could get 60 to 80 inches of snow, forecasters said. Lassen Volcanic National Park is forecasted to receive 36 to 48 inches.
Times staff writer Alene Tchekmedyian contributed to this report.
1:40 p.m.: This article was updated with comments from Beck and Diebold.
9:25 a.m.: This article was updated with the forecast for heavy snow in Northern California.