How to be El Nino Ready

image of rain with palm trees


More than 100 first responders and other local officials gathered mid-October at the County Office of Emergency Services for a briefing on upcoming winter weather forecasts and ideas for how to prepare.

Forecasters predict San Diego County could be in for higher-than-average rain this fall and winter due to strong El Niño conditions in the Pacific Ocean. To help kick off preparedness efforts, experts from the National Weather Service, the County’s Department of Public Works, Office of Emergency Services, the California Department of Water Resources, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, San Diego Fire-Rescue, County Water Authority and the National Resources Conservation Service all presented.

If the conditions continue as observed so far, this could be the strongest El Niño season on record, said Alex Tardy, Warning Coordination Meteorologist Manager with the National Weather Service, during his presentation at OES in October. This season may not necessarily bring bigger storms, but more frequent storms. And the wet conditions are also expected into April, making a longer winter weather season than typical. Still, because we are so short of rainfall -- 27 inches total statewide --even with a wet El Niño season, we are likely to still be in drought come the spring, Tardy said.

The County is gearing up to be ready, and emergency managers recommend that everyone take steps to prepare their property for potential flooding, and their families for this and any disaster.

As part of a new El Niño preparedness campaign launched by the County in October, a new El Niño-specific section has been added to the County’s and (in Spanish) websites, with lots of flooding and erosion control resources. Click on the El Niño banner on the top of the websites to find information on how to protect your family and home before and during storms.

County Department of Public Works crews are also inspecting and clearing County road and drainage culverts. The County has prepared a list of pre-approved emergency contractors and vendors to call upon in a major storm. County Damage Assessment Teams are being prepared for deployment and recovery options are being streamlined in case heavy rainfall produces significant flood damage to properties.

Emergency managers caution that just because you haven’t experienced flooding in past storms, doesn’t mean you are necessarily safe from flooding in a future storm. Flood risk isn’t just based on history, but depends on rainfall levels, river flow and tidal surge data, topography, flood control measures in the area and changes to the area due to building and development. One way residents can learn their home or property’s flood risk is by looking at FEMA’s flood-hazard maps.

Residents can check their property to see if it is in a flood-prone area or near a hillside with little or dead vegetation that could easily be washed away by rain. Water, mud, and debris will flow downhill, so to prevent erosion that could damage your home or building, consider using mulch, terracing the slope or planting a variety of groundcovers or shrubs. Inspect your property’s drainage channels and culverts routinely to make sure they are clear, at a minimum before and after a storm.

If you believe you may be at risk for flooding or erosion, residents and businesses in the unincorporated areas of the county can pick up free sandbags at nine locations. See the list here. Sandbags can be used to divert water from your home, your neighbor’s home, or a storm drain or culvert that may get clogged. Instructions on how best to use sandbags are also available.

Home and business owners can check with their insurance carriers to see if they need flood insurance, or if their policy is up-to-date. You do not have to live in a flood plain to get flood insurance.

Residents are disaster-ready if they have a family disaster planemergency supplies or “go kit,” have registered their mobile phones for the AlertSanDiego emergency notification system and have downloaded the SDEmergency app.

To get ready for potential flooding damage, follow these additional steps: 

  • Keep copies of important documents such as mortgage papers, deeds, passports, and bank information in your home in a watertight container or sealed plastic bag, and in a secure place outside the home like a bank deposit box.

  • Save receipts for expensive household items as proof of the original costs.

  • Take and store photos of your valuable possessions with your other important documents.

  • Make itemized lists of other possessions not already listed and photographed. The more comprehensive the list, the easier it will be to file a claim.

  • Always keep your policy and insurance agent’s contact information handy in the event you need to file a claim.