Montecito, California (CNN)Tens of thousands of Californians have evacuated their homes as a storm approaches and could bring "dangerous flash flooding, mud and debris flow" Friday.
Tens of thousands of Californians evacuate as storm brings mudslide risk
Less than two months ago, they saw their houses buried in mud or surrounded by scorched hillsides.
On Thursday, more than 20,000 people in Goleta, Santa Barbara, Summerland and Carpinteria were ordered to evacuate their homes "out of an abundance of caution," Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said.
The order also includes Montecito, the community where at least 21 people were killed and two people were never found after mudflows in January. The evacuations were taking place in areas scorched by December's massive Thomas Fire and two other blazes.
Mark Olson was outside his home Thursday filling up bags with dirt from January's mudflows. He and some friends were putting the bags around the garage and setting other sacks to funnel water away from his property.
"We're putting all the debris that came down to use," he said. "There's a lot of wishful thinking and hope that somehow this time around it's not as devastating as the last (storm in January)."
The National Weather Service office in Los Angeles said 2 to 3 inches of rain could fall through Saturday. A flash flood watch was scheduled to take effect at 9 p.m. PT for parts of Santa Barbara and Ventura County.
The last time the rain came to this area of Southern California, a mudslide walloped through Montecito. As a new storm threatens the area, Laura Ziouani and her family packed, took their dogs and headed to a hotel.
"It's difficult to keep leaving but I think it's the best thing to do," Ziouani said.
Thursday's evacuation was the third one in the past months and Ziouani said she knows it may not be the last one.
"(It's) frustrating. At the end of the day, you have to do what you have to do," she added.
Several feet of snow and winds are slamming Northern California mountains in what could be the state's biggest storm of the season.
A total of 4 to 6 feet of snow is expected for the mountain passes and peaks while up to a foot for foothill locations, the National Weather Service said.
Several schools and highways were closed in the Sierra Nevada communities Thursday when snowfall and heavy gusts reduced visibility to near zero levels.
Despite the big headaches for travelers, authorities are counting on the storm after California's long history of drought problems.
It's been a somewhat dry winter in California and snowstorms are one of the state's most important water resources. When the snow melts, it runs off filling water reservoirs.
Recent state snow surveys indicate that so far, the amount of snowfall and levels of water held in the snow have been low, CNN affiliates reported.
Last year, the amount of snowfall recorded in Sierra was the lowest in the past three years, CNN affiliate KGO reported.
The lack of snow does not necessarily mean a drought might be coming, authorities say.