Environment & Science

Powerful storm hits SoCal, triggering evacuations

A powerful Pacific storm is moving across central and southern parts of California, drenching communities previously ravaged by wildfires and mudslides. Thousands of residents evacuated their homes ahead of the storm while others were waiting it out and hoping for the best. KPCC is covering the impact of this powerful storm from Santa Barbara to Los Angeles counties.

Get the latest developments on the storm with our live updating story >>

Here's a recount of the first day of the storm.

6:11 p.m. Mandatory evacuation orders added in Riverside County, dropped in parts of Los Angeles County

Mandatory evacuation orders were issued Wednesday for the Canyon Fire burn area in Corona, starting at 6 p.m., due to potential flooding and debris flows.

The affected homes are those on or near recently burned slopes, according to a press release from the city's fire and police departments. You can view the affected homes on this map and on this list.

Meanwhile, some evacuations were dropped in parts of Los Angeles County. Due to an updated weather forecast and a projected decrease in the amount of rain expected, mandatory evacuations were canceled for Kagel Canyon, Lopez Canyon and Little Tujunga residents

Mandatory evacuations from the 8300 block to the 9000 block of La Tuna Canyon remain in effect due to debris flows in the La Tuna Canyon area. Voluntary evacuations in that area also remain in effect. The road is closed from the 8300 block to the 210 Freeway.

LASD tweet

3:46 p.m. Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Ventura counties should expect storm weather Thursday

San Luis Obispo County is expected to be hit by the storm Wednesday, according to the latest information from the National Weather Service — before the storm moves into Santa Barbara, Ventura and Los Angeles counties on Thursday.

Moderate to heavy rain will likely cause some dangerous debris flows and flooding, according to the NWS. Rain amounts will range from 1.5 inches to 6 inches.

There will be intense rain in some areas, peaking at 0.5 to 1 inch per hour.

More details from the National Weather Service:

NWS L.A. tweet

KPCC Staff

2:15 p.m. Fires, storms keep Montecito residents from their homes for weeks

Between the Thomas Fire in December, the mudslides in January and rainstorms since, Wayne Lauritsen has spent 34 days away from his home in Montecito.

“Yeah, it’s been hard,” he said, suddenly crying over a ham and cheese sandwich at a table in the Red Cross shelter in Santa Barbara, where he’s staying with his family. “The uncertainty of what’s going on. The stress is there. And I have a 12-year-old daughter. It’s very stressful on everybody.”

Wayne Lauritsen of Montecito is staying at the Red Cross shelter in Santa Barbara, as seen on Wednesday, March 21, 2018. Since early December, he has spent 34 days being evacuated from his home due to the threat of wildfire or mudslides.
Wayne Lauritsen of Montecito is staying at the Red Cross shelter in Santa Barbara, as seen on Wednesday, March 21, 2018. Since early December, he has spent 34 days being evacuated from his home due to the threat of wildfire or mudslides.
Emily Guerin/KPCC

During the evacuations, they’ve stayed at a combination of hotels and shelters. Hotels can get expensive — but he prefers them because there, “You can turn the news off. One of the problems about staying in a shelter is it reminds you constantly of what’s going on. That kind of creates a stress.”

They’ve left during every mandatory evacuation — five times since December. Before they left during the Thomas Fire, Lauritesen, his wife and daughter went to watch the wildfire burning in the canyons nearby.

“A mile and a half away, you could hear the roar of the fire,” he said. Afterwards, his wife said, “‘You don’t ever take us to look at the fire again.’”

Emily Guerin/KPCC


Caltrans officials say a portion of State Route 33 north of Ojai is closed "due to mud (and) debris."

The highway has been closed indefinitely between Fairview and Lockwood Valley roads in the Los Padres National Forest.

— KPCC staff


Many businesses were closed in Montecito Wednesday morning and there were indications that residents were heeding the mandatory evacuation orders.


One of the few stores still open was a Vons, where store manager Aaron Berends had some insight into what locals were doing to stock up ahead of the storm.

"Water, paper products and wine. This is Montecito," Berends said.


It's unclear just how many residents have left the area, but one Santa Barbara County Sheriff's deputy told KPCC he knocked on 50 doors in the mandatory evacuation zone and only three people said they were staying.

— Emily Guerin/KPCC

8:45 A.M. Flood advisory in effect

The National Weather Service has issued a flood advisory as the rain picks up in Southern California.

The advisory is in effect in northwestern Ventura County, Santa Barbara County and south central San Luis Obispo County.

"Life threatening flooding of creeks, roads and normally dry arroyos is likely," NWS officials said. "The heavy rains will likely trigger rockslides, mudslides and debris flows in steep terrain, especially in and around these areas."


— KPCC staff


Forecasters are still waiting for the rain to start in earnest, as only light precipitation has fallen over the past 24 hours on parts of Southern California.

Santa Barbara and Ventura counties have seen the most, with rain gauges in the mountains indicating that more than an inch has fallen.  

Officials are watching the rainfall closely, as the storm is traveling right over the Thomas Fire burn areas. Because the steep terrain was stripped of its flora, flash floods and debris flows are more likely.

Half an inch of rain in an hour is enough to trigger the destructive events. And while that intensity hasn’t been reached yet, it’s a possibility later in the day.

L.A. County will get most of its rain Thursday — an expected 1.5 to 3 inches per the National Weather Service.

— Jacob Margolis/KPCC


The National Weather Service says that they’re seeing thunderstorm development off the coast, which could bring heavy bursts of rain to areas already susceptible to mudslides.

Areas scorched by December’s Thomas Fire have already received some of the heaviest rainfall over the past 24 hours, and things are expected to pick up over the next 12 to 18 hours.


— Jacob Margolis/KPCC



Late Tuesday, Los Angeles County authorities told thousands more to be ready to evacuate from neighborhoods in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, which have also been badly hit by wildfires.

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


A January storm unleashed mudslides that inundated hundreds of homes in the community of Montecito and killed 21 people.

— KPCC staff with AP


Los Angeles County officials announced new evacuations in areas hit by winter wildfires late last year. They were set to go into effect at 6 p.m. Wednesday.

LAPD HQ map tweet

Mandatory evacuations in the Creek Fire and La Tuna Canyon Fire burn areas:

Voluntary evacuations in the La Tuna Canyon Fire burn area also begin at 6 p.m. in the following communities:

Los Angeles city and county officials have released a phone number for their Joint Information Center that residents can call to find out storm evacuation information: 323-957-4594.              


Deputies with the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department went door-to-door on Tuesday, March 20, 2018, to notify residents they were under mandatory evacuation due to the incoming storm system.
Deputies with the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department went door-to-door on Tuesday, March 20, 2018, to notify residents they were under mandatory evacuation due to the incoming storm system.
Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department

Mandatory evacuations were issued as of noon Tuesday for extreme and high risk areas in Santa Barbara County, as seen on this map. This includes the Whittier and Sherpa fire burn areas, as well as part of the Thomas Fire burn area.

The following evacuations are in effect in Ventura County:

Riverside County:

Homes on or near recently burned slopes near the Canyon Fire burn area; see the affected homes on this map and on this list


These evacuations went into effect Tuesday at 12 p.m.

Santa Barbara County

Those in the Alamo Fire burn area are under recommended evacuation orders. See the affected area on this map.

Ventura County

City of Ventura


Los Angeles County: Evacuation shelters will open at 5 p.m. Wednesday at Sylmar Recreation Center, 13109 Borden Ave., and at Westwood Recreation Center, 1350 S. Sepulveda Ave.

For residents with large animals in evacuation zones, a shelter is set to open at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Hansen Dam Equestrian Park, 11127 Orcas Ave., Lake View Terrace.

Santa Barbara County: The Red Cross has opened an evacuation center in Warren Hall at the Earl Warren Showgrounds, 3400 Calle Real.

Ventura County: A Red Cross emergency evacuation shelter opened at Ventura College at 12 p.m. Tuesday. The college is at 4667 Telegraph Rd.

A shelter for the homeless is open in the Culture Arts Room of the Santa Paula Community Center, 536 W. Main St.

A small and large animal evacuation shelter has been established at Ventura County Animal Services, 600 Aviation Drive in Camarillo.


All campuses in the Ojai and Santa Paula school districts will be closed Wednesday, officials said, as well as the following schools in the city of Ventura:

In addition, Mupu Elementary School District campuses will close at noon. For the latest updates on evacuation zones and school closures, visit vcemergency.com.


In anticipation of higher demand due to the heavy rain, many homeless shelters in L.A. County will be open around the clock from Tuesday evening until Friday morning, according to the The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority.

Hours at the following shelters are being extended until 7 a.m. Friday:

For more information and to verify hours, call the LAHSA Winter Shelter hotline at 800-548-6047.