On Tuesday, many California cities and counties faced the first major storm of the year with staffs already strained by layoffs and furloughs.

Early in the day, the National Weather Service (NWS) issued a Flash Flood Warning for areas of Santa Cruz County. The County flew into action. The Emergency Operations Center activated their reverse 911 system to evacuate 60 homes in the area burned in the Lockheed Fire over the summer. County employees spent the day evaluating and closing roads in danger of flooding or debris slides.

“At this point we can deal with the situation with existing staff,” said Public Information Officer Dinah Phillips. The county is down about 10 percent in staffing overall, she said.

“If this goes on and on, that would be different,” Phillips said.

NWS also issued Flash Flood Watch, Wind Advisory and Hazardous Weather Outlook designations for parts of Santa Barbara, Los Angeles and Ventura counties in the wake of summer fires that left downstream areas vulnerable to debris flow from the lack of hillside vegetation.

“Rainfall amounts of 1.5 to 4 inches are expected… Southern California Residents in or below the recently burned areas are urged to take the steps necessary to protect their property,” read the Watch.

Santa Barbara County Communications Director William Boyer said at mid-day that his county was prepared for the worst. Budget cuts had not hurt emergency response activities because the flood control district does not get its funds from the general fund. It still employs the same 35 people for gutter clearing and sandbag distribution that it had last year.

At 2 p.m. the storm was dousing the city of Hollister, which was also under a Flash Flood Watch. Street Supervisor Ray Rojas was confident that his team would be able to continue the level of drain clearing required to keep traffic flowing – this time.

Rojas was not as confident about the future. “We are just starting a furlough program,” he said. Depending on when the next storm strikes, he could be facing a reduction in staff on mandatory unpaid leave. And his Plan B could be just as compromised.

“During emergencies, we get assistance from other departments, but they will be impacted by the furloughs as well,” Rojas warned.

Madera County Roads Commissioner Johnnes Hoevertsz was also planning for the next storm when the Flash Flood Watch didn’t result in any major incidents. He is down 15 people in his department and plans to use contractors for emergency flood response and snowplowing whenever the weather calls for more than his scaled down staff can handle.

By the end of the day, the City of Sacramento had taken over 500 calls for service, according to Department of Transportation Public Information officer Linda Tucker. “The majority of calls were regarding down trees and clogged storm drains,” Tucker said.

City utility crews weathered the storms by utilizing resources from other work areas, such as water and sewer crews assisting drainage crews with clogged storm drain calls.

The Sacramento Urban Forestry Group is down 17 positions (mainly due to attrition), but used field laptops and pro-active pruning to mitigate the impact of weather emergencies.

Overall, cities have tried to cushion their emergency response departments from cuts because of storms like the one that hit Tuesday, said League of California Cities spokeswoman Eva Spiegel.

JT Long can be reached at jtlongandco@gmail.com