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Santa Barbara County officials update storm disaster readiness ahead of winter season

Posted at 10:44 PM, Oct 25, 2018
and last updated 2018-10-26 02:53:16-04

Just 10 months after the deadly and destructive Montecito Mudslides, Santa Barbara County officials are prepping residents for another winter.

A meeting held Thursday provided insight to the possible dangers ahead and how the county has evaluated its preparation over the spring and summer. From those assessments, officials are rolling out new evacuation methods and protocols.

“Like many communities across the state, we are bracing ourselves for another post-fire winter season,” said Matt Pontes, Assistant County Executive Officer.

Scores of residents packed the Montecito Union School, hearing public safety officials detail what makes the recipe for debris flow. It takes a combination of several things, including steep terrain and fire-scarred watersheds above the community. Add a fast storm event, and danger can heighten rapidly.

“What we have learned is it’s the high intensity, short duration rainfall rates that are most likely to produce debris flows,” said Mark Jackson, National Weather Service-Oxnard meteorologist.

The burn scars from the Thomas Fire continue to slowly regrow to help hold the soil down, making thresholds for rain rates higher, but rates two-to-three times higher above that threshold can cause issues.

“Where we might see any debris flows might not even come into focus until the day before or even the hour before,” Jackson said.

If there is a chance of a problematic weather event, an interagency storm risk team convenes. It collectively will make the decision on what actions they want the public to take in an effort to protect residents when mother nature flexes its power.

“We are confident we will get through this winter as best we can,” said Rob Lewin, County Office of Emergency Management Director. “We have not let our guard down for a moment.”

Since 1950, locally the number of downpours occur one more time per year, even in dry years, according to KSBY Meterologist Dave Hovde.

The debris flow risk map will be updated by late November.

You can see if your home is in the possible path of a debris flow on the current map by visiting the website here.

The next meeting will be held in Carpinteria, Oct. 29 at the Veterans Memorial Building at 5:30 p.m.