Historic storm highlights importance of preparedness


For a second consecutive year, as climate change continues to redefine expectations about weather, Southern California has been hit with unprecedented winter weather.

With Governor Gavin Newsom declaring a state of emergency, rain continues to fall in record doses across Southern California. Residents should take stock of the current situation, and prepare for the next time severe weather strikes.

ReadyOC, Orange County’s preparedness website, should be kept close at hand. Winter has struck with a vengeance, with pounding rains, flash floods, power outages, landslides and swift water rescues all in the news. However, simple precautions and steps taken now could save untold heartache going forward.

This week, Southern California found itself in the barrel of an atmospheric river, or Pineapple Express, as the jet stream dropped south and drew warm, moist air to the area. The system also slowed over the coast, adding to the precipitation totals.

As of noon Monday, Orange County had been drenched with 6 inches falling at Santiago Peak, including 4.65 in a 12-hour stretch. Meanwhile, NBC News, quoting the National Weather Service, reported that downtown Los Angeles received 4.1 inches of rain in one day, smashing the previous daily record for February of 2.55 inches, set in 1927. Upwards of 11 inches have been reported in parts of Los Angeles county.

First things first, safety officials say, if you don’t need to go out, don’t.

Flooding concerns

Flood watches have been issued across the Southland, and the danger continues even when watches are not in effect.

As the ReadyOC website notes on its flooding page, “Flooding is one of Orange County’s most likely disasters. Flash floods can strike any time with little or no warning turning Orange County streets and freeways into rivers within seconds.”

“Most flash flooding is caused by heavy rains concentrated over the same area and also from run-off from local hillsides and clogged storm drains,” according to ReadyOC. “Failing to evacuate flooded areas or entering flood waters can lead to injury or death.”

The Ready to React page on Ready OC is filled with disaster preparedness information. As the website states, “Remember, just six inches of moving water can knock you down, and one foot of moving water can sweep your vehicle away. Do not walk, swim or drive through flood waters. Turn Around, Don’t Drown!”

If you haven’t already, sign up for AlertOC. The mass notification system is designed to keep residents and businesses informed of emergencies that may require immediate action. Those signed in receive time-sensitive and location-specific voice or text messages from the county or city on home, cell, or business phones. Messages can also be sent to email accounts and TTY devices.

Flooding and rain storm considerations

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:

  • Heavy rains bring the likelihood of downed tree limbs and the possible loss of electricity and other utilities. 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.
  • In heavy rain, buildings may lose power, water, and other utilities, sometimes for extended periods of time. 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.
  • 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. Check out ReadyOC’s Ready for the Road page for more tips. 
  • 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.
  • 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. 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 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.
  • Because of the potential for high winds along with rain, try to not park where toppled limbs and trees can damage your car.
  • If driving in the mountains is necessary, snow chains may be required. Before you leave, familiarize yourself with snow chain installation.
  • An emergency kit for cars should be carried, along with a cell phone, portable charger, cables, extra batteries, extra hats, coats, mittens, and blankets, as well as a windshield scraper, shovel, first aid kit with any necessary medications and a pocket knife.
  • Make sure maintenance service on your vehicle is up to date, including proper levels of antifreeze, windshield-wiper fluid (winter mixture), brake fluid, and tires inflated to proper levels.

More to come

This storm will pass, but forecasts tell of a strong El Nino for the winter to continue through the spring, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Generally, an El Nino means warm temperatures and heavier precipitation. There are no guarantees how the rest of the winter will play out; however, climatologists say severe weather is becoming the standard due to climate change.

For more preparedness information:

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