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12 Ways West Coasters Can Prepare for El Niño

12 Ways West Coasters Can Prepare for El Niño

The 2015-2016 El Niño is predicted to be one of the strongest in recorded history. In fact, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has been reporting concerns about El Niño since August, and there is an 85 percent chance that people throughout the Northern Hemisphere will be affected by the storm until early spring.

This phenomenon will cause unusual weather patterns. For example, the Midwest is expected to have a warmer and drier than average winter, but areas on the East coast such as Georgia are highly likely to experience the opposite effect. Meanwhile, individuals living on the West Coast need to be particularly attentive to this winter’s weather due to potential prolonged periods of rain, flooding and mudslides. Fortunately, there are some tips that West Coasters can utilize to help minimize their risk of suffering from any El Niño related losses.

1. Understand How an El Niño Works

At its most basic level, an El Niño is nothing more than a temporary climate change that occurs in the Pacific Ocean near the equator. This results in warmer ocean temperatures, which affects the atmosphere. Additionally, thunderstorm activity moves eastward along the equator. An El Niño can last for up to one year, but the weather changes that accompany it will usually have the biggest impact on the West Coast from the winter through the early spring.

Throughout the El Niño season, the winds over the Pacific Ocean become weaker, and this helps the surface temperature soar even higher. Ultimately, each El Niño does not stop until it reaches the coast of Asia and is then reflected back toward its origin point. As this happens, the ocean’s surface temperature returns to normal.

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2. Stock up on Essentials

The 1997-1998 El Niño is currently the strongest on record, and it caused devastation throughout California. In only one month, downtown Los Angeles received 13.68 inches of rain, which is close to the area’s typical annual rainfall amount. Flooding and mudslides led to several fatalities, and they also made it difficult for people to go shopping for essentials.

Instead of allowing yourself to be caught off guard during this El Niño, it is imperative to take advantage of the current predictions by stocking up on food, water and medical supplies. Be sure to purchase non-perishable items that can be eaten during an extended power outage. Taking this step now may help your family survive.

3. Learn Your Area’s Evacuation Plan

If you live on the West Coast, you are most likely familiar with emergency evacuation routes, but it is still a wise idea to double-check on the plan that is in place for your area. Remember that mudslides and landslides are a common problem when a lot of rain falls within a short period of time. Certain roads and residential areas are at the highest risk, so you may need to use an evacuation route to reach safer ground.

4. Review Your Insurance Policy and Add Any Necessary Riders

Most people do not have the necessary amount of insurance coverage to mitigate all of their losses during a flood or mudslide. Mercury Insurance crunched some numbers from the 1997-1998 El Niño. According to Mercury Insurance, the storm caused a stunning $550 million in damages in California alone. To make matters even worse, the average cost per homeowner was $1,288. Unless you review your policy and make any needed changes now, you could end up responsible for more than $1,900 in damages due to inflation.

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5. Perform Any Necessary Exterior Home Repairs

Are your gutters hanging by a thread? Perhaps you have a leak or some loose roof shingles that you keep meaning to secure. If this is the case, you need to take action immediately to protect your home. Any exterior issues that are left unrepaired will give water easier access to the inside of your house, and the intense rain that can be expected could easily cause loose shingles and gutters to fall apart.

6. Purchase a Generator

More than 1 million California residents lost power during the 1997-1998 El Niño, and this has caused local power companies to put new plans in place for the next major storm event. However, this does not mean that you can expect your lights to stay on. Instead, it is better to take precautions by investing in a generator. This will allow you to avoid waiting several days for assistance if the power goes out in your neighborhood.

7. Take Your Car in for a Check-Up

If it becomes necessary to flee the area via an emergency evacuation route, you will also need to be able to rely on your vehicle to provide safe transportation. Taking your car in for a general check-up now could easily make the difference between life and death if mudslides start happening on the West Coast.

8. Put Rain Barrels in Place to Collect Free Water for Your Garden

Environmentalists have been encouraging people in California to put rain barrels in place throughout the drought as a way to do everything from watering gardens to flushing toilets. The reality is that California has been devastated by the recent drought, and El Niño represents an opportunity to stock up on water for non-potable purposes. This can also reduce some of the strain that has been placed on the state’s drinkable water supplies.

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9. Maintain Your Trees and Yard

Trees are beautiful and provide some much-needed shade, but they can also cause a lot of property damage if they are not properly maintained before a bad storm. If you currently have any limbs hanging, make sure that they are removed. You should also secure anything in your yard that could be picked up by heavy winds. You may be able to pick up free sandbags from your county to help prevent the flow of the water into your home. Doing all of this now will eliminate some of the stress and danger of prepping for El Niño last minute.

10. Back Up Your Critical Data

Any critical data that you cannot afford to lose should be backed up in multiple places. Even tech giant Google irretrievably lost some cloud data in Belgium earlier this year because of an electrical storm, a cautionary tale for everyone on the West Coast. The best way to ensure that your critical data stays safe is to back it up on the cloud and place a copy of everything on a thumb or external drive that is stored outside of your home or business.

11. Assemble Two Emergency Preparedness Kits

Having an emergency preparedness kit in your home could save your life, but what happens if you’re at work when a major storm hits? By creating two duplicate kits and keeping one in your vehicle at all times, you can give yourself the best possible level of protection from El Niño. There are many things that should be inside each emergency preparedness kit, including a dust mask, local maps, a flashlight, a whistle and enough food and water for three days.

12. Make a Family Plan for Dealing with Flooding/Mudslides

Your family should have a plan in place for dealing with any type of emergency, especially if you are not together when the situation arises. Be sure to discuss where everyone will meet if your house is no longer safe, along with alternate forms of communication. You may wish to invest in some long-range walkie-talkies and put one inside of each family member’s vehicle. It’s also vital to discuss evacuation routes and any plans that your city has put in place for evacuating people who don’t have access to a car.

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El Niño season is dangerous, and the 2015-2016 event may leave West Coasters dealing with a repeat of what happened in 1997-1998. Don’t let yourself get caught unprepared. This is also the perfect catalyst for learning more about the impact that climate change has on your life. If everyone began making a concentrated effort to reverse greenhouse warming, then all of the people living within the typical El Niño path would benefit from a decreased frequency of these weather events.

Featured photo credit: Oso Mudslide El Niño/DVIDSHUB via flic.kr

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Last Updated on June 6, 2019

Science Says Silence Is Much More Important To Our Brains Than We Think

Science Says Silence Is Much More Important To Our Brains Than We Think

In 2011, the Finnish Tourist Board ran a campaign that used silence as a marketing ‘product’. They sought to entice people to visit Finland and experience the beauty of this silent land. They released a series of photographs of single figures in the nature and used the slogan “Silence, Please”. A tag line was added by Simon Anholt, an international country branding consultant, “No talking, but action.”

Eva Kiviranta the manager of the social media for VisitFinland.com said: “We decided, instead of saying that it’s really empty and really quiet and nobody is talking about anything here, let’s embrace it and make it a good thing”.

Finland may be on to something very big. You could be seeing the very beginnings of using silence as a selling point as silence may be becoming more and more attractive. As the world around becomes increasingly loud and cluttered you may find yourself seeking out the reprieve that silent places and silence have to offer. This may be a wise move as studies are showing that silence is much more important to your brains than you might think.

Regenerated brain cells may be just a matter of silence.

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     A 2013 study on mice published in the journal Brain, Structure and Function used differed types of noise and silence and monitored the effect the sound and silence had on the brains of the mice.[1] The silence was intended to be the control in the study but what they found was surprising. The scientists discovered that when the mice were exposed to two hours of silence per day they developed new cells in the hippocampus. The hippocampus is a region of the brain associated with memory, emotion and learning.

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    The growth of new cells in the brain does not necessarily translate to tangible health benefits. However, in this instance, researcher Imke Kirste says that the cells appeared to become functioning neurons.

    “We saw that silence is really helping the new generated cells to differentiate into neurons, and integrate into the system.”

    In this sense silence can quite literally grow your brain.

    The brain is actively internalizing and evaluating information during silence

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      A 2001 study defined a “default mode” of brain function that showed that even when the brain was “resting” it was perpetually active internalizing and evaluating information.

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      Follow-up research found that the default mode is also used during the process of self-reflection. In 2013, in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, Joseph Moran et al. wrote, the brain’s default mode network “is observed most closely during the psychological task of reflecting on one’s personalities and characteristics (self-reflection), rather than during self-recognition, thinking of the self-concept, or thinking about self-esteem, for example.

      “When the brain rests it is able to integrate internal and external information into “a conscious workspace,” said Moran and colleagues.

      When you are not distracted by noise or goal-orientated tasks, there appears to be a quiet time that allows your conscious workspace to process things. During these periods of silence, your brain has the freedom it needs to discover its place in your internal and external world.

      The default mode helps you think about profound things in an imaginative way.

      As Herman Melville once wrote,[2]

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      “All profound things and emotions of things are preceded and attended by silence.”

      Silence relieves stress and tension.

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        It has been found that noise can have a pronounced physical effect on our brains resulting in elevated levels of stress hormones. The sound waves reach the brain as electrical signals via the ear. The body reacts to these signals even if it is sleeping. It is thought that the amygdalae (located in the temporal lobes of the brain) which is associated with memory formation and emotion is activated and this causes a release of stress hormones. If you live in a consistently noisy environment that you are likely to experience chronically elevated levels of stress hormones.

        A study that was published in 2002 in Psychological Science (Vol. 13, No. 9) examined the effects that the relocation of Munich’s airport had on children’s health and cognition. Gary W. Evans, a professor of human ecology at Cornell University notes that children who are exposed to noise develop a stress response that causes them to ignore the noise. What is of interest is that these children not only ignored harmful stimuli they also ignored stimuli that they should be paying attention to such as speech. 

        “This study is among the strongest, probably the most definitive proof that noise – even at levels that do not produce any hearing damage – causes stress and is harmful to humans,” Evans says.[3]

        Silence seems to have the opposite effect of the brain to noise. While noise may cause stress and tension silence releases tension in the brain and body. A study published in the journal Heart discovered that two minutes of silence can prove to be even more relaxing than listening to “relaxing” music. They based these findings of changes they noticed in blood pressure and blood circulation in the brain.[4]

        Silence replenishes our cognitive resources.

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          The effect that noise pollution can have on cognitive task performance has been extensively studied. It has been found that noise harms task performance at work and school. It can also be the cause of decreased motivation and an increase in error making.  The cognitive functions most strongly affected by noise are reading attention, memory and problem solving.

          Studies have also concluded that children exposed to households or classrooms near airplane flight paths, railways or highways have lower reading scores and are slower in their development of cognitive and language skills.

          But it is not all bad news. It is possible for the brain to restore its finite cognitive resources. According to the attention restoration theory when you are in an environment with lower levels of sensory input the brain can ‘recover’ some of its cognitive abilities. In silence the brain is able to let down its sensory guard and restore some of what has been ‘lost’ through excess noise.[5]

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          Summation

          Traveling to Finland may just well be on your list of things to do. There you may find the silence you need to help your brain. Or, if Finland is a bit out of reach for now, you could simply take a quiet walk in a peaceful place in your neighborhood. This might prove to do you and your brain a world of good.

          Featured photo credit: Angelina Litvin via unsplash.com

          Reference

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