In our fourth year of drought, El Nino may sound like a welcome visitor or, based on our 1997-98 season experience, a cause for concern.
Either way, are we prepared? Most we spoke with in an informal sidewalk survey sounded casual about El Nino, but the National Weather Service is taking it seriously.
“We’ve seen all the connections. Everything is happening,” NWS meteorologist Michelle Mead said. “We’ve got the warm sea surface temperatures, we’ve got the storm track that’s starting to shift.”
Mead says skeptics often look at low river or reservoir levels.
“They are correct in that assumption. However, it’s the small creeks and streams, things of that nature that with one or two atmospheric rivers, those can come up very quickly, and you can have a flash flood or an urban flood when we’re in the middle of a drought,” Mead said.
In the last few weeks, FOX40 has brought you stories of swift water rescue training, sandbagging at wildfire burn scars and roofers entering their busy season ahead of the winter rains.
Utility companies are also busy.
“As the winter storms are getting ready to hit, safety is our number one priority,” PG&E spokesperson Lynsey Paulo said.
FOX40 met Paulo in Clarksburg, where tree contractors were trimming branches away from power lines. This kind of work goes on year-round but, with El Nino and the possibility of mass power outages in mind, the utility is also conducting disaster drills, and stockpiling equipment.
She added PG&E has added a lot of technology since the last El Nino to better assess and respond to weather-related impacts. The utility even employs its own team of meteorologists.
“PG&E has a plan. We practice all year round, and we encourage our customers to do the same,” Paulo said.
So what can you do to be prepared?
“Check your emergency check list, your emergency notifications, your out of area contacts. And also, do you have an emergency kit in your car, in hour house, or where you work?” California Office of Emergency Services spokesperson Brad Alexander said.
Beyond the obvious water and imperishable food in our disaster kits, Alexander recommends medicines, flashlights and batteries, a can opener, and a radio that’s powered with batteries or a crank.
For now, store shelves are well-stocked.
“You can’t tell people that it’ll be in next week. So you really have to fill the shelves in advance,” Capitol Ace Hardware manager Matt London said. London said his store is ordering more storm supplies with El Nino in mind.
If you’re a property owner, it’s wise to make sure your gutters are clear and draining properly.
Flood insurance can also be a good idea, in case you’re on the fence.
“We’ve been in drought for so long, people think, ‘Well, we can use all the rain we can get,’ which is true but if it comes too much too fast, we’re going to be in a flash flood scenario, and I can only tell you seven to 10 days before that event will happen, and the flood insurance requirement is 30 days. So you need 30 days waiting period before that policy will kick in,” Mead said.
The mild storms we’ve seen so far in November has not been related to El Nino and are not predictors of what’s to come.
“The increased storm track is typically the latter part of winter, or after the Christmas season, the January, February, March time frame,” Mead told FOX40.
So, El Nino is still out there. And if all of this seems reminiscent of Y2K, in this case nature crying wolf, the experts remind us it’s better to over-prepare than get left in the dark.