To this day, people say they can’t bear to see images of the 2018 debris flow in Montecito because it evokes such a strong remembrance of the trauma of those days, during which the community learned that 23 people had died. If this includes you, be aware that you will not want to watch this 20-minute video assembled by the County of Santa Barbara. But everyone else may want to see what was presented to the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday to recount the fire that led to the debris flow, and the work that has gone on since then to rebuild the community and to anticipate future storms and floods.
After the video presentation, Supervisor Joan Hartmann wondered if “back to normal” following this year’s floods was good planning, and she asked Kelly Hubbard, the county’s emergency manager, to report on the Assembly hearing she attended last week.
“I’m paid to think of the worst-case scenario, and it’s not often that I’m humbled or scared of the scenario shared,” Hubbard said, standing at the microphone in the middle of the supervisors’ fourth-floor hearing room.
At the Assembly hearing was an expert from UCLA, who was updating the “Ark Storm Scenario” developed about six years ago based on climate knowledge at the time. At the request of Governor Gavin Newsom, they were updating it with new climate change and climate vulnerability data, Hubbard said, including a greater understanding of atmospheric rivers. She said a couple things had stuck with her about the significance of the changing weather.
“We had over 20 inches of rain in the January storms here,” she said, “and he was talking about 70 to 80 inches in a storm in the next 20 to 30 years over a two-week period.” Hubbard paused and said, “Triple, quadruple what we experienced in a two-week, three-week period, would be absolutely devastating to our community.”
Hubbard also found it compelling that the “gentleman from UCLA” stated that weather extremes — drought and flood — and fewer normals were to be expected in the future. She said the continual movement between the extremes meant preparing differently for those emergencies, including making sure the most vulnerable residents were also prepared. To get there, her office was hiring a person to “train the trainers,” to work with trusted community leaders to reach more of the Santa Barbara County population during the emergencies ahead.
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