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.
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.
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.
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.
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