El Niño is the popular term for an El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) event. The most notable aspect of an El Niño is the migration of warm water from the western Pacific to the eastern Pacific, along the coasts of South America, Central America, and California. The Southern Oscillation refers to a shift in atmospheric pressure, with a pressure increase in the eastern Pacific and pressure decrease (a low pressure system) in the central Pacific. In California, this low pressure system can cause more southern storm tracks that often bring more rainfall. According to the December 10, 2015 ENSO forecast by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), El Niño conditions are expected to remain strong this winter. Ocean warming is one indicator of El Niño strength, and the sea temperatures for June through August were the third highest since such records were started in 1950. Only the temperatures in 1987 and 1997 - both years with damaging storms - were higher. However, there are many types of El Niños and only time will tell if this winter has above or below average rains and coastal storms.
The following is a general checklist for property preparedness for El Niño.
- Yard clean-up: Make a general inspection of your entire yard area for dead trees or dead limbs, yard debris, outdoor furniture, or other objects that could be blown by storm winds. An afternoon spent tidying up the yard and either storing furniture and other loose items indoors or securing them can prevent a frantic scramble to collect items that have landed on your roof or in your neighbors’ yards.
- Drains and gutters: Make sure all drains and gutters are cleared of debris and functioning properly before the storm season. If buildings do not have gutters and drains, consider having them installed. Storm water runoff from impermeable surfaces (e.g., roofs, driveways, and patios) should be directed into appropriate drainage control areas, including the use of a collection system to avoid excessive soil saturation where applicable.
- Roofs: Inspect your roof, or hire a roofing contractor, to check for loose tiles, holes, or other signs of trouble.
- Retaining walls: Visually inspect all retaining wall drains, surface drains, culverts, ditches, etc. for obstructions or other signs of malfunction, before the storm season, and after every storm event.
- Slopes: Visually inspect all sloped areas for signs of gullying, surface cracks, slumping etc. Also inspect patios, retaining walls, garden walls, etc. for signs of cracking or rotation. Such signs might be indications of slope movement, and if you notice any problems it would be prudent to have the site inspected by a geotechnical engineer.
- Bare ground: Make sure your yard does not have large bare areas that could be sources for mudflows during a storm event.
- Storm drains: Visually inspect nearby storm drains, before the storm season and after every rain. If the storm drains are obstructed, clear the material from the drain or notify the local Department of Public Works or other agency responsible for drain maintenance.
Floods are among the most frequent and costly natural disasters. Heavy or steady rain for several hours or days saturates the ground and may cause flooding. Flash floods occur suddenly due to rapidly rising water along a stream or low-lying area. If you are located in an area that is susceptible to flooding, you should monitor NOAA Weather Radio or commercial radio or television stations for information about flood watches and warnings.
The following are terms commonly used in flood watches and warnings.
- Flood Watch: Flooding is possible. Monitor radio and television stations for more information.
- Flash Flood Watch: Flash flooding is possible. Be prepared to move to higher ground; monitor radio and television stations for more information.
- Flood Warning: Imminent threat – Flooding is occurring or will occur soon; if advised to evacuate, do so immediately.
- Flash Flood Warning: Imminent threat – A flash flood is occurring or will occur soon; seek higher ground on foot immediately.
Stay away from floodwaters. If you come upon a flowing stream where water is above your ankles, stop, turn around and go another way. Six inches of swiftly moving water can sweep you off of your feet. If you come upon a flooded road while driving, turn around and go another way. If you are caught on a flooded road and waters are rising rapidly around you, get out of the car quickly and move to higher ground. Most cars can be swept away by less than two feet of moving water. Keep children out of the water. They are curious and often lack judgment about running water or contaminated water. Be especially cautious at night when it is harder to recognize flood danger.
In the event of a major incident in Montecito, go to www.montecitofire.com, or tune in to AM 1610 for additional information and situational updates. Sand bags are available to local residents at Station 1, 595 San Ysidro Road.