All They Can Do Is Wait


Coming storm brings mudslide risk to Southern California

We all knew this was coming, just not so soon…

October 13, 2009 |  9:21 am


As the first storm of the season moves into Southern California, the National Weather Service is issuing flash-flood watches for mountain burn areas from Santa Barbara to San Bernardino counties.

Officials said residents in burn areas should prepare for possible mudslides, rock slides and debris flows "even during periods with little or no rain falling."

The powerful winter storm started moving into Southern California on Monday, combining the force of a storm from Alaska with the moisture-laden remnants of a typhoon from the western Pacific.

The National Weather Service issued the flood watches for areas burned by recent fires in Santa Barbara, as well as the massive Station fire in Los Angeles County and the Sheep fire near Wrightwood. The watch also covers areas burned in last year’s Sayre and Marek fires in the San Fernando Valley area.

"This storm is expected to tap into subtropical moisture, giving it the potential to bring moderate to heavy rain," according to a weather agency statement this morning. "This heavy rainfall may create significant hazards in and around recent burn areas, with a threat of flash flooding and debris flows over the burn areas of Santa Barbara, Ventura and Los Angeles counties."

A high wind warning is in effect for all L.A. County mountain areas from noon today to Wednesday morning, accompanied by winds of 35 to 40 mph and gusts up to 60 mph.

The storm system is wetter than normal for October, when the average rainfall for the entire month is about half an inch, weather officials said. The rains are being driven by strong winds blowing from the south, intensifying rainfall on south-facing mountain slopes that burned from Altadena to Acton during the 250-square-mile Station fire that broke out in August.

The U.S. Geological Survey released a grim forecast last week for communities hit by the Station fire, saying major mudslides are likely during the winter rainy season. The locations most at risk for mudslides are La Cañada Flintridge, La Crescenta and a few areas of Pasadena against the San Gabriel Mountains, geologists said.

The California Highway Patrol has closed some mountain roads because of the coming rains, said Officer Francisco Villalobos, a spokesman for the agency. Big Tujunga Canyon Road is closed 1 1/2 miles north of Mount Gleason Avenue to Angeles Forest Highway. Aliso Canyon Road was closed in the Angeles National Forest.

Authorities said they were seeing an increase in the number of accidents this morning and advising drivers to watch out for slick conditions.

"It’s the first significant rainfall of the season," said Rich Thompson, a weather service meteorologist. "So the roads can be slicker than you might expect because of all the oil coming up."

With 3 to 6 inches expected Tuesday night and the USGS mudslide warning fresh in their minds, L.A. foothill residents hope the sandbags and debris diversions work. Some are evacuating just in case.

As news of the coming wet weather circulated Monday, residents in charred foothill areas scrambled to fill sandbags or pack their belongings and flee areas prone to flooding. Officials also worked to place huge concrete mudslide barriers along roads in areas including La Cañada Flintridge.


Mud1 Mud2 Mud

The storm, which originated in the Gulf of Alaska, is expected to combine with moisture-laden remnants of a typhoon from the western Pacific, making the system wetter than normal, the National Weather Service said. On top of that, the storm system will be driven by strong winds blowing from the south, intensifying rainfall on the south-facing mountain slopes that burned from Altadena to Acton during the

"We’re expecting a pretty good system to come through," said Jamie Meier, a meteorologist with the weather service’s Oxnard office. "What’s making this so significant is that tropical moisture from the remnants of the typhoon is moving eastward and will interact with this storm system."
For the last 30 years, Meier noted, the average rainfall for the entire month of October has been about half an inch. "This one storm will make it a wet October," she said.
Last week, the U.S. Geological Survey released a sobering forecast for communities hit by the Station fire, saying major mudslides will be highly likely during the winter rain season.
Kevin Schmidt, a research geologist at the USGS, said Monday that the locations most at risk are in La Cañada Flintridge, La Crescenta and a few areas of Pasadena sitting against the San Gabriel Mountains.
Los Angeles County Fire Department Battalion Chief Mike Brown, who commands rescue units in the La Cañada Flintridge area, said personnel will be monitoring hillsides in the areas ravaged by the Station fire when the storm arrives. He said sandbags will be available for residents at all
county fire stations. Some will also have sand available.
Olivia Brown of La Cañada Flintridge had picked up 200 sandbags, which she was hoping to place around her house before the storm arrived. Standing behind her one-story stucco home Monday, she looked up toward the rugged hillside.
"All that is supposed to come down," she said. "There are some big boulders up there. And we’ve had daily landslides since the fires. This is ground zero right here."
Brown, 44, and her husband had already spent a week staking steel rods attached to wood logs into their backyard to divert debris away from their home on Ocean View Boulevard near Earnslow Drive. But over the weekend, they added an 8-foot-tall chain-link fence reinforced with railroad ties across the back of their house.
"I woke up with an anxiety attack," she said. "We weren’t ready to have it this hard, this soon."
In Vogel Flats, meanwhile, Bronwen Aker was busy Monday afternoon packing the contents of her one-bedroom cabin into cardboard boxes.
She said she was notified by the U.S. Forest Service to evacuate her home by Tuesday. Aker worried that if mudslides washed out nearby roads, she might not have another opportunity to gather family heirlooms, including her late grandmother’s collection of hand-woven baskets.
"I’m erring on the side of caution," said Aker, 45.
She planned to put up plywood and a plastic tarp against the brick and knotty pine home that she’s lived in for 11 years near Big Tujunga Canyon Road. Built in the early 1900s, the cabin has been in Aker’s family for decades. It’s the same place where she nursed her ailing grandmother, who died last year.
"It’s not about losing money — it’s about the memories here," she said. "This is the first time I’ve been truly afraid of losing the house."

Our burned-out hills can’t handle 1” of rain, let alone 3 to 6 inches.  I’m just praying for the best.

In case you can’t access my Media Player, here is today’s song.  Brad Paisley

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4 Responses to All They Can Do Is Wait

  1. Joe says:

    I saw this on the news Bob…ever feel like you guys are going to end up as a poster state for FEMA? I pray that you guys find some relief soon. If it gets much worse you may have to donate your speedos to charity!

  2. CAROL says:

    Scary I saw this just now and one person died already.. Hope it doesn’t effect you too much. : )

  3. GreatGranny says:

    I wish the best for these folks who may lose everything to these mudslides.

  4. john says:

    Water is a powerful force and what it can move is amazing. The east stands of the old Mile High Stadium in Denver were moved by water jets on a half inch of water. The stands were moved about 100′ to convert from football to baseball. Just small amount of water to move that…. 3-6 inches out there in the burn areas will move mountains. The best for all.

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