How to Prepare Your Home for El Niño

Flooded warning sign on an impassable road, San Martin, California

Goodbye, cracked Earth and brown grass. Hello, umbrellas and Wellies and sandbags. El Niño is here!

According to the LA Times, California is about to be hit with the first El Niño storm of the year – with more rain to come. Most models indicate that the current storm system will continue through winter, bringing potential record rains to California over the next three months. The National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center says this El Niño will rank among the “three strongest episodes…dating back to 1950.”

For those who can’t recall a time when California rain was anything more than a wish on another dry, droughty day, The Weather Channel is here to remind us of the last catastrophic El Niño storm: “In February 1998, a series of storms caused an estimated $550 million in damage and killed 17 people in California,” they said. “A total of 35 counties were declared federal disaster areas.”

With the potential for dangerous storms, floods, and other weather-related dangers, it’s imperative to prepare properly. Follow these tips to protect yourself, your loved ones and your property.

1. Do a Thorough Check of Your Home’s Perimeter

You might not be aware of problem areas that could cause water to pool. Sandbags are a great defense against water that’s threatening to get inside and damage your home.

“Sandbags are a fast way to redirect water. Each layer of sandbags represents 3 to 4 inches of added flood protection,” said the Sacramento Bee.

For the yard, mulch can help to absorb extra water. According to the Los Angeles Times, “USC adjunct professor Bob Perry advises placing 3 to 4 inches of organic mulch in beds and areas where water will drain or collect.”

2. Check for Roof Leaks 

If it’s safe, climb up (or hire a professional) to check your roof. It’s much better to know where problem areas exist ahead of time than end up with a houseful of ruined stuff.

3. Address Your Gutters

Rough storms could result in leaves and branches in your gutters, if they’re not there already.

“Gutters are your roof’s first line of storm defense,” said the Fresno Bee. “They’re designed to channel rain off the roof.”

Adapting gutters and downspouts can also help guide water coming off the roof in the right direction.

“An inch of rain adds up to 600 gallons per 1,000 square feet of roof,” they said. “Install removable downspout adapters and flexible drain coils to the gutter system’s downspouts to guide water away from the foundation.”

4. Reevaluate Your Insurance

Do you have flood insurance? If not, you might want to make a phone call to your agent. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has recommended that Californians buy flood insurance, “even if they live in areas of low to moderate risk,” said the Los Angeles Times. “If there was ever a time to buy flood insurance, this is the time,” Roy Wright, FEMA’s deputy associate administrator for insurance and mitigation told the publication.

Residents can identify their flood risk by entering their addresses at the government’s floodsmart website.

Keep in mind that new policies have a 30-day waiting period before they take effect.

5. Have Some Cash on Hand

We’re all used to being able to use our ATM or credit card for pretty much anything, so you might not be in the habit of carrying cash. In an emergency situation like a stalled car or a weather-related emergency during a power outage, having an emergency stash of cash can be a lifesaver. If your local stores lose power, they may stay open but credit card readers won’t work.

6. Charge It!

This is a good time to test the batteries in your flashlights and remote controls, and buy more. Additionally, make sure you have a backup power source for your cell phone; a couple of battery-operated or solar powered chargers on hand is helpful. It’s also a great time to locate chargers and plugs in laptops, games and anything else that can keep kids entertained when the power goes out. If you’re in an area that is prone to losing power during storms (or you just can’t bear being powered down for a period of time), a power generator may be the answer.

7. Stock up on Supplies

Do you even have an umbrella in the house? What about a tarp? Plastic buckets are another must-have just in case your roof leaks.

Beyond supplies to control water seeping into your home or onto your person, you’ll want to make sure you have sufficient emergency kits in the house.

The following items should be included:

  • Bottled water—one gallon per person per day is the recommended amount
  • Protein-rich, non-perishable foods like peanut butter, nuts, protein bars, canned tuna, salmon, chicken, or turkey (with a pop-top can so you’re not dependent on a can opener), plus items like whole wheat crackers, canned vegetables, and dried fruit
  • Batteries
  • A flashlight, candles (plus matches/lighters) and/or glow sticks
  • External chargers (make sure they’re charged!) or solar powered chargers for your cellphone
  • A weather radio or battery-operated radio
  • Necessary medications and first aid supplies
  • Extra clothes and shoes
  • Toilet paper
  • Vitamins
  • Food and supplies for pets
  • Diapers and formula for babies

8. Watch Out for Fido

If you have pets in your home, in addition to making sure they have enough food and any necessary medications, make sure your pet is wearing an ID tag or is microchipped. Animals tend to get scared during storms and can run off. If you commute to/from work, designate an emergency pet sitter who lives and works nearby in case you can’t get home due to weather-related road conditions.