Janet waits for her bus under the cover of a new umbrella at a bus stop in Adelanto, Calif., as rain began to fall on Wednesday, March 21, 2018. (James Quigg/The Daily Press via AP)

Forecasters: New round of heavy rain hits California

March 22, 2018 - 10:28 am

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Although the first wave of a worrisome Pacific storm didn't cause any major problems in California, a new round of heavy rain arrived Thursday, leaving authorities and disaster-weary residents on edge.

After an overnight lull, the storm picked up intensity before dawn on the state's central coast, where thousands of people have been evacuated because of the threat of debris flows and mudslides from wildfire burn areas.

Forecasters warned that disaster was still very possible.

"We're very concerned," said National Weather Service meteorologist Joe Sirard. "We're hoping this isn't a cry-wolf scenario where people will pooh-pooh what we're saying."

The storm came ashore earlier in the week on the central coast and spread south into the Los Angeles region and north through San Francisco Bay, fed by a long plume of subtropical moisture called an atmospheric river or a "Pineapple Express" because of its origins near Hawaii.

It also moved east, bringing the threat of flooding to the central California interior and Sierra Nevada, where winter storm warnings for heavy snow were in effect and many routes required motorists to put chains on their vehicles.

Rain was expected to end in Southern California by early Friday while storms continued in the north.

Record rainfall was recorded in five spots including Santa Barbara, Palmdale and Oxnard, where nearly 1.8 inches (4.5 centimeters) of rain had fallen by Wednesday evening. That's compared to the record of 1.3 inches (7.6 centimeters) set in 1937.

Nearly 5 inches (13 centimeters) of rain had fallen in northern San Luis Obispo County, while 2.7 inches (7 centimeters) fell in Santa Clarita, just north of Los Angeles and 2.6 inches (6.6 centimeters) was recorded at one spot in Santa Barbara County.

Authorities kept a close watch on Santa Barbara County, hoping there would not be a repeat of the massive January debris flows from a burn scar that ravaged the community of Montecito and killed 21 people.

Mud and rockslides closed several roads in the region, including Highway 1 at Ragged Point near Big Sur, not far from where the scenic coast route is still blocked by a massive landslide triggered by a storm last year.

A large pine tree was felled in Los Angeles, landing across a residential street into a picket fence. No one was hurt.

Carolyn Potter, 59, evacuated from her home in Casitas Springs in Ventura County on Wednesday — the fourth time since September — and plans to sleep in her car in a grocery store parking lot to avoid hotel costs and the bustle of an evacuation shelter.

Meanwhile her husband Alan is staying home, just like he has the other three times Potter has evacuated because of fires or storms since September.

"It's OK because we're not fighting," Potter said. "I get to leave and he stays. It's like, 'See you later.' We're both happy.

"I feel better not being under the cliff in my sleep," Potter said. "If he feels OK that's his problem. If something happens maybe I'll zip on down and dig him out."

With the storm expected to last through Thursday, there was concern about the combination of rainfall rates and the long duration, said Suzanne Grimmesey, a spokeswoman for Santa Barbara County.

With the grim Montecito experience in recent memory, Santa Barbara County ordered evacuation of areas along its south coast near areas burned by several wildfires dating back to 2016.

"We actually do feel good about the evacuation order," Grimmesey said. "Law enforcement was out in the extreme risk areas of Montecito yesterday knocking on doors. For those that were home, we had a very good cooperation rate with people leaving."

Many residents in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties have faced repeated evacuations or advisories since December, when a wind-driven fire grew into the largest in recorded state history and destroyed more than 1,000 buildings.

In Los Angeles County, authorities canceled some planned mandatory evacuations because of a projected decrease in rainfall but kept others in place because of debris flows in one canyon area stripped bare by wildfire.

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