A historic tree at the Santa Barbara Mission that was uprooting during recent storms. (Jan. 6, 2016)

Paul Wellman

A historic tree at the Santa Barbara Mission that was uprooting during recent storms. (Jan. 6, 2016)

El Niño’s First Storm

Downpour Blasts Residents But Leaves Lake Cachuma Thirsty

El Niño’s first stormy appearance in 2016 delivered much-needed wet weather to dried-out Southern California earlier this week, dumping four inches of rain downtown and blasting Santa Barbara with hail and at least one near-miss lightning strike. Midmorning on Wednesday, surfer Davey Smith, 57, was driving on Shoreline Drive when lightning struck the front of his Isuzu Trooper and “traveled up the hood, through the windshield, and into the car,” he said. “It shook the whole car.” Aside from an instant headache, eyeball pain, and a lingering sulfuric taste in his mouth, Smith felt okay and didn’t seek medical help. “I’m fine now,” Smith said with a laugh.

Since the 2016 water year started on September 1, 2015, countywide rainfall average is 85 percent of normal, with San Marcos Pass totaling 6.63 inches and downtown checking in at 4.86 inches.

Lake Cachuma — a critical water source for thirsty Santa Barbara — gathered nearly three inches from rain falling directly on its surface but didn’t receive an appreciable amount in the form of runoff. Much of the soil in the lake’s surrounding watershed remains relatively dry and won’t shed any excess rainfall until it’s more saturated, said Santa Barbara County Deputy Public Works Director Tom Fayram. “But we still have a lot of the winter ahead of us.”

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