It’s been a calamitous winter, and it’s not over yet. Although California’s poppies bloomed with the recent rains, dotting Southland hillsides and open space from Anaheim Hills to the Antelope Valley, their appearance doesn’t mean winter has gone away. Another massive storm is in the forecast this week.
This winter has seen bomb cyclones, or in the ever-expanding parlance of the National Weather Service “bombogenesis,” that crippled holiday travel to the East Coast and caused 50 deaths during the “blizzard of the century.”
Meanwhile, despite its generally warmer climes, California was drenched by “atmospheric rivers” that brought record rain and snow, particularly to Northern California. As of Jan. 10, at least 22 weather-related deaths were reported, although none in Orange or Los Angeles counties. It’s a good idea to keep ReadyOC, Orange County’s preparedness website, close at hand.
ReadyOC has launched a Ready to React page to educate the public on what to do during disasters and other emergency-related situations.
Don’t let the rivers wash you away
This year, California was reintroduced to the “atmospheric river” in a big way. The term, which was coined in 1994 to describe atmospheric water vapor transport across the mid-latitudes, has come into vogue recently by weather watchers describing major hydrologic events.
California’s forests and reservoirs need the rainfall so trees can grow and build up their resistance to the hot, dry days to come and the ever-present fire danger. Reservoirs, which have dipped to dangerously low levels, need replenishment and a strong deep snowpack is vital to rivers and reservoirs.
However, while California’s watershed needs the moisture, when hillsides become waterlogged, those hillsides collapse. There are numerous factors for this, ranging from shallow root systems damaged by fire to natural erosion and earthquake activity, to overdevelopment by man. This has led to a flooding problem in a mostly dry state. According to the California Department of Water Resources, “every county in California has been declared a federal flood disaster area at least once in the last 20 years.”
Even in urban areas, heavy rain, clogged drains, and failed pumping stations can lead to streets and low-lying areas being awash in muddy waters. Here are some things to consider with regard to flooding.
- It is important to understand the risk for flooding. The National Flood Insurance Program can provide information about whether a home or business is in a flood zone, how to buy flood insurance, and other information. Homeowners insurance typically does not cover flood damage. The California Office of Emergency Services My Hazards page has maps that can show dangers different areas face, from earthquakes to fire to tsunamis.
- In case of flood, during inclement weather stay inside if possible.
- To protect a home from being flooded, keep storm drains clear. If the property is prone to flooding, have sandbags, plastic sheeting, and other flood-fighting materials on hand.
- Learn how to turn off water, gas, and electricity connections to the home in the event that a home is flooded. Contact local utility companies for help.
- If an evacuation is needed, remember that more people are trapped and die in their vehicles than anywhere else during a flood. Do not drive through moving water. Six inches can sweep people off their feet and just 12 inches of moving water can carry away a small car. The NOAA Flooding Safety Card is a good reference, and can be printed and stored in the glovebox.
- Never drive around barricades. Local responders use barricades to safely direct traffic out of flooded areas. And don’t go check out the rushing waters in nearby creeks and rivers. Keep a safe distance.
- Be careful crossing bridges over fast-moving water, as bridges can be washed away with little warning.
- If a vehicle becomes trapped in rapidly moving water, stay inside the vehicle or climb on the roof if water is rising inside the car.
- If flood waters are filling a building, only climb to the roof if necessary or if directed by emergency personnel.
Pay attention to weather forecasts, flash flood warnings, and listen to local authorities, and make sure to sign up for AlertOC. The mass notification system operated by the County of Orange in conjunction with local cities is designed to keep residents and businesses informed of emergencies that may require immediate action. Those signed in receive time-sensitive voice or text messages from the county or city in which they live or work on home, cell, or business phones. Messages can also be sent to email accounts and TTY devices.
The State of California has its Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES) at caloes.ca.gov and listoscalifornia.org. Like ReadyOC and Alert OC, the state’s websites are repositories of information about disaster awareness and preparedness.
In heavy raining weather, buildings may lose power, water, and other utilities, sometimes for extended periods of time. For this reason everyone should have an emergency kit ready with sufficient water, nonperishable food, and medications for at least three days, and be prepared to evacuate if necessary. A variety of emergency preparedness resources including checklists, emergency documents, and other items to consider can be found here on the ReadyOC website.
Make sure to have a first aid kit, flashlight, batteries, can opener, and cell phone and electronic cables and chargers available, as well as a household inventory with copies of critical documents.
A longer list of emergency preparations can be found on ReadyOC.com, including instructions for establishing a family communication and shelter plan for emergencies. Make it a priority to discuss strategies for communication, evacuation if necessary, and reunification. Arrange places to gather in case of emergency: in the home, in the neighborhood, and elsewhere.
March has been said to come in like a lamb and go out like a lion. On the cusp as it is between winter and spring, March can be a mad month. A little preparedness can assure you keep the lion at the door.