Ready for El Niño?

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:
  • So does the California Coastal Commission: – search for El Niño for property preparedness checklists.
  • The National Weather Service can be a useful source for forecasts:
  • 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.

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One Comment

  1. Charles T. Wilson November 20, 2015 at 2:07 pm - Reply

    My good friend and colleague, Mike Van Horn ( emailed me with his own detailed preparations and said I could share:
    “Great stuff; Charles! Glad to see you did this. A few other things that we have done in prep:
    — Put all boxes and furniture stored in the garage up at least an inch off the floor, since in heavy rain water runs out of the hillside and through the garage, about 1/8 of an inch deep—just deep enough to mess up such things.
    — Brought up all of our rechargeable camping lanterns from the deep garage, make sure they are charged, and keep them in the closet. We also have kerosene lanterns easily accessible—with their glass chimneys, they have much less fire risk than candles.
    — Test the drainage system that carries hillside water around the house and out the downhill side.
    — Hired a guy to look at the base of all posts to our retaining wall and make sure none are rotting at ground level. Once before, these broke, letting mud cascade against the back wall of the garage.
    — Have our tree guy examine the roots of the trees up the hill to make sure they look strong and the trees unlikely to blow over onto the house.
    — We have water purification tools we bought for our trip to Mongolia that we can use here in a pinch.
    — Bring as much firewood inside as I can before it starts raining.
    — Make sure the propane tank for the barbecue is full, in case there’s an interruption in natural gas service. We can cook outside under the eaves if need be, even if it’s raining.
    — Make sure we have a plan for communicating with key people using texting, since during crises this is often more reliable than phone or email
    — We also have an old non-electronic, push-button phone that we can hook to a phone jack. It will work even if there’s no electricity.
    — Avoid parking the cars where a falling tree could fall on them or block them in.
    — We won’t pre-plan any trips for January or February, both because travel in torrential rains is not fun, and we would want to be home in case there were any big storm problems here. So any such trip would be planned spur of the moment when weather allows.
    — Last but not least, lay in a couple of extra cases of good red wine to keep the cockles of our heart warm.”

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