Further to last month’s weather alerts tip, several readers asked about El Niño. This weather disturbance where Pacific Ocean temperatures alter dramatically, can bring heavy rains to the western U.S. and Canada, and dry and unsettled weather elsewhere – southeastern U.S. and southeastern Asia.

Ten Checklist Preparations

Here are 10 preps for you to protect families, homes, and businesses. Asterisks (*) below mean there is little or no coverage in your basic insurance policies!

  1. Don’t ignore the warnings – we humans are great at dismissing risks and having incomplete understanding of possible impacts.
    • In 1998 nothing happened until mid-January despite dramatic warnings – then rains hit with a vengeance.
    • In the San Francisco area it rained for two straight months!
    • Stay alert, follow the news, and make some preparations!
  2. Flooding creeks and rivers can cause huge damages. Even slopes and hillsides can become torrents when parched, and then turn into foul mudflows (resulting from flooding).*
    • Sandbags and other types of protection – like plywood sheets – need to be ready beforehand.*
  3. Flood insurance may be useful, but take action early – it takes 30+ days until you’re covered!*
    • Your normal property policies do not cover floods. And there are very broad definitions in the exclusions.
    • Landslides and mudslides and usually deemed “earth movement” are also excluded from basic policies even if rain and floods are present.*
  4. Clean gutters, rooftops, downspouts, etc. Animals and debris can quickly cause big problems.
  5. Clean or alert public works to clogged storm drains; check backup prevention valves on your property to be sure they are operational.*
  6. Beware of trees weakened by drought – they can lose root strength and fall unexpectedly.
  7. Dangerous driving conditions from severe rain can cause hydroplaning and serious accidents.
  8. Blackouts can happen unexpectedly – from vehicles or trees taking out power lines or poles. Make sure you have enough flashlights and extra batteries – candles are a no-no due to fire hazard!
  9. Emergency supplies can mean survival in dire circumstances – now is the time to update and refresh.
    • Consider supplies of food, water, extra clothing, flashlights and other necessities in vehicles and at workstations.
  • Evacuation plans must include mapping out your routes to higher ground.
    • You must be able to contact family members and coordinate locations – often someone out of the immediate area is easier to reach.
    • A “go bag” can contain essential clothing, glasses, medications, car keys, and cash for a fast exit.
    • The mantra for your gas tank should be: “half-full is empty.”


  • FEMA has many tips about flood protection and safety: ready.gov/floods.
  • So does the California Coastal Commission: coastal.ca.gov/ – search for El Niño for property preparedness checklists.
  • The National Weather Service can be a useful source for forecasts: http://www.noaa.gov/.
  • Local newspapers and special magazines may have articles of interest – search for El Niño.

Your municipal Public Works department may have suggestions and sandbags for residents.