Remember El Niño? That ’90s storm sensation that produced torrential weather in the Hollywood Hills? As an El Niño condition is soon to develop, this year has the greatest potential for wet conditions in Southern California.
The powerful El Niño over the Pacific Ocean could bring massive, once-in-a-generation storms to Southern California in 2015, according to a new report released Thursday from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center. They say there is a greater than 90 percent chance that El Niño will continue through early 2016 in the northern hemisphere and that there’s an 86 percent chance it will last into early spring.
“Collectively, these atmospheric and oceanic features reflect a significant and strengthening El Niño,” the report states. Strong El Niño conditions can result in not only more storms – but stronger storms – typically carrying heavy rain and snowfall. Climate scientists say this year’s El Niño could rival the intensity of the record-setting 1997 El Niño season, which caused weather-related havoc around the world including mudslides and flooding in the Hollywood Hills in Southern California. El Niño in 1997 was the strongest on record. While all of this may sound like the perfect cure to the state’s multi-year drought, NOAA forecasters say even an above-average El Niño won’t be enough to erase the past four years of bone-dry weather in California. Although El Niño could help with the drought situation, it can also bring severe weather including flooding, strong winds, thunderstorms and even mudslides. Officials have cleared out debris basins and were prepositioning equipment and personnel in anticipation of possible landslides.
Early August water temperature readings tell a scarier story: the temperatures are higher than in 1997 when the West was battered by one of the strongest El Niño events on record. Scientists say the conditions are lining up in ways not seen since the winter of 1997-98, when downpours filled reservoirs and sent rivers raging, but this time it will likely be even more powerful. One government scientist termed it a “Godzilla El Niño”.
Residents in Glendora, beneath the area burned by January’s Colby Fire, are laying down sandbags and making preparations for possible flooding. County officials said they will be closely monitoring areas that have experienced recent fires because of fears they will be more prone to debris and mudslides. “We are anticipating a high possibility of mud and debris flows based on these current forecasts — in some of the at-risk areas, which really include the burn areas up along the foothills,” said Robert Spencer, chief of public affairs for the L.A. County Department of Public Works.
Spencer said that the department would be closely monitoring areas in Glendora as well as sites in Monrovia, Castaic and La Cañada Flintridge. All are places that experienced wildfires in recent years.
Department of Public Works has been prepared for months, with flood controls already in place by the official Oct. 15 start of the storm season. As the Colby fire necessitated additional steps be taken to mitigate potential debris slides, DPW deployed engineers to give advice to about 200 homeowners on how to protect their properties; and cleared out six debris basins so that they would be fully capable of catching rubble.
Officials for the L.A. Fire Department said they were urging residents to prepare for the rains. To help, each local fire station in the city of Los Angeles will have empty sandbags available for residents. Homeowners will be able to get sand at 33 of the stations and at locations for the Bureau of Street Services.
Rainstorms are expected to bring in as many as 8 inches of rain to parts of Southern California in the next few days, and people across Los Angeles County are preparing for the potentially devastating effects so much water can bring. Protect your family, your property and your wallet by taking action with moves that can be wise in many parts of the country. Homeowners need to begin to prepare now for what could be historic storms batter Southern California. Immediate steps that need to be taken:
1. Look Up at the Roof
Survey the health of your roof because it is going to take a pounding. If you were ever going to clean out your gutters, do it now. Before wet or snowy weather hits this winter, head outside and inspect your roof from the ground for warning signs of damage, sagging and aging. If you see anything, call a roofing professional immediately so problems don’t arise once precipitation arrives.
Once winter weather hits: Do a second inspection. This time, look for signs of leaks inside the house, and if you have snowfall, look for any spots on the roof that have snow buildup or high snowdrifts. Also, look for any sagging areas, the most obvious indicator that there is too much weight on your roof.
2. Nail down that Garden Gnome
Secure any patio furniture, accessories, pots and anything else that can be affected by wind and extreme moisture. Add extra mulch to your perennial plants to prepare them for inclement weather. Buy sandbags now….not just before the rains hit. The L.A. Fire Department is making sand available at 33 stations for hillside residents; sandbags can be picked up at any LAFD station in the city.
3. Where’s that Flashlight Again?
Prepare for power outages because they will be coming. Wind and water are not kind on electric distribution grids and LA’s infrastructure is not designed for serious storms. Older neighborhoods, in particular, will experience frequent and prolonged outages. Take the time to find and inspect your electrical panel now so it’s easy to find when the power goes out. Also, make sure you have fresh batteries in your flashlights and be sure the flashlights are easily accessible. We recommend placing a few candles in heavily trafficked rooms with matches or a lighter right next to the candles. Finally, have an empty cooler handy.
4. When It’s Time to EVAC
Map out an evacuation plan. Flooding will be rampant, so if you live in an area that can be hit by mudslides or flash flooding, you need to form an evacuation plan and prepare a cache of emergency supplies. You might also want to think about purchasing flood insurance, for this winter only.
5. Is Everyone Accounted for?
Establish a meeting place among family members in case you and other family members can’t get home. Often a school or hospital is conveniently located and designed to withstand inclement weather.
6. Stock Up on Food
When storms hit, it can be difficult to get to the store. We’re not suggesting stocking up on perishables, but it will help if there’s something edible in your pantry when you’re stuck because of weather.
Take a trip to Costco or Sam’s Club and stock up on non-perishable items such as canned soup, vegetables, powdered food, oatmeal, rice, pasta and quinoa. Also, don’t forget bottled water. How much? A good rule of thumb is to have enough food on hand to feed your family for a week. And water is a gallon a day per-person. This is because if the water supply becomes contaminated and is shut off by your water company, then each person will need a gallon for drinking and sanitary needs.
7. Portable Electric Submersible Pump
If your home is prone to leaks, you may want to purchase a portable electric submersible pump that attaches to a garden hose. Around 1000 gallons per hour capacity should be adequate, supplied by a durable, water resistant extension cord. This may come in handy as well if your home’s foundation begins to be undermined by the rain.
Move valuable items off of your garage floors; garages are most frequently hit by flooding and items stored there are likely to suffer the most damage. The L.A. Fire Department is making sand available at 33 stations for hillside residents; sandbags can be picked up at any LAFD station in the city.
8. Know How to Call for Help
Cell phone infrastructure may be impacted by outages or flooding, so have an alternate way of contacting the outside world (short-wave radios are relatively low cost). Know the non-emergency number to use to reach your local public safety communications center. If you have a storm related problem and it is not a life threatening emergency or fire, you should use the dispatch center’s non-emergency line or call your nearby fire station.
9. Disaster Supply Kit
Create a “disaster supply kit” — make it a point to stock up on medicine, (especially essential prescriptions) canned food, water bottles and other necessities. Think also in terms of spare batteries and chargers for indispensable electronics, plus a stack of playing cards never hurts. Plan for up to a week of isolation but make the kit mobile so you can take it to a shelter if you need to.
10. Anticipate Your Pets’ Needs
While you’re preparing for your family’s safety and comfort during an El Niño, don’t forget about Fido! Take a week and track everything that you need for your pet. How much food and water does he or she go through in a week? What about medications? Make sure that you have plenty of everything to keep your pet healthy.
Next, make sure your pets’ tags are up-to-date. Storms can be disorienting for pets when they’re outside, so make sure that there is a way for someone to help return your pet to you if it is lost.
Once their needs are taken care of, think about what your pet will need to stay sane if you’re confined to home for a week. Does your cat or dog love toys? Catnip? Bones? Make sure you have plenty of pet-friendly things around to endure a week inside. Never leave a pet alone outside during a storm. If they must go outside to potty, stay with them the entire time.