Significant rainstorm predicted for Central Coast

Feb 21, 2014

Runoff spills out a downspout in San Luis Obispo as welcomed rainfall finally came to the Central Coast in early February.
Credit KCBX News

Updated Monday, 2/24 at 1:52 p.m. PST:

The month of February could end much the way it started, with some badly-needed rainfall for California and the Central Coast. Unlike the last couple of rain events however, this time around the region could get hit with a major winter storm.

Monday's National Weather Service prediction models held up through the weekend and still indicate showers first arriving Wednesday evening and lasting through Thursday morning. This first wave is expected to be strongest in San Luis Obispo County.

Friday and Saturday still hold the most promise for any significant rain totals throughout the entire area. Coastal areas could see one to two inches, while the foothills and mountains could get up to four inches of rain. Snow levels are expected to start at 7000 feet on Friday and drop to 5000 feet by Saturday.

Optimism about what could be the largest storm to hit the area over the past few years is welcome news for residents of the drought-weary Central Coast. San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Counties are among the hardest hit areas of the state according to The National Drought Mitigation Center (NDMC) in Lincoln, Neb. The drought intensity for both Central Coast counties is currently listed as a D4—the highest on the scale. Portions of Monterey and Ventura Counties have also received the D4 status. Most of California sits in a D2 to D3 range, which is still considered severe to extreme.

Part of the problem is that our region missed out on the major storm systems that moved through northern California earlier in the month, bringing locally-heavy rainfall totals to areas along the Oregon border. Del Norte County saw as much as 15 inches of rain in isolated areas within the Smith River drainage, according to NDMC.

Central Coast reservoirs haven't seen even a fraction of those totals this year or last. This morning's reading at Santa Barbara County's Lake Cachuma, a major drinking water resource for both Santa Barbara and Goleta, shows it at a meager 18 percent of normal. Lake Nacimiento in San Luis Obispo County registered at 21 percent during Thursday's reading. Other reservoirs throughout the region are sitting at similar levels.

This week's predicted storm holds promise for Central Coast ranchers and farmers who are taking extreme measures to battle the past year's historic conditions. Those who raise cattle are reducing their herds to combat the lack of water and food supply, NDMC explains in the organization's most recent National Drought Summary states. Vineyard managers in the region are considering ways to protect their crops as well.