The flooding events of 1998 arrived on a strong El Niño and occurred throughout the month of February.
The first major incident occurred on February 2, when a storm bringing 63 mph winds took down hundreds of trees and powerlines, putting thousands of homes in the dark across Goleta and Santa Barbara. The next day, 15-foot-high waves damaged pilings under Stearns Wharf and a broken sewer line near Arroyo Burro Beach, closing several nearby beaches due to high levels of bacteria buildup. Flooding along a Gaviota creek caused damage to a Chevron facility, resulting in the accidental release of hazardous materials. The airport also closed down due to flood, and Highway 101 was shut down in Ventura.
On February 6, another storm brought intense rainfall to the Goleta area and overwhelmed Las Vegas, Encina, and San Pedro creeks. UCSB students were dismissed due to inundated classrooms and street flooding was widespread throughout Isla Vista and downtown Goleta. The airport was once again closed due to flooding, and major disruptions of transportation were widespread throughout the South Coast. In Santa Barbara, minor to moderate flooding occurred throughout town. Sycamore Canyon was evacuated, and one hiker drowned in Rattlesnake Canyon.
The El Niño’s final blow came on February 23-24 as heavy rain hit Montecito. All the major creeks overflowed and houses along San Leandro Lane, Veloz Drive, Santa Rosa Drive, and Olive Mill Road experienced flooding. While the events of 1998 were not as severe for the South Coast as the 1995 event, significant flooding and related damages occurred throughout the county, especially in the San Ynez, Lompoc, and Santa Maria valleys.