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On Oct. 23, 2015, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) warned Californians to buy flood insurance before El Niño hits, and it is now too late to purchase coverage. According to the Los Angeles Daily News, the warning applies to all residents, even if they do not live in a flood-prone area. There are several reasons for this advisement. However, the primary one is that the El Niño is the strongest it has been in over 20 years. Another fact to keep in mind is that there is typically a six-week wait for flood insurance policies to become effective once they are purchased.
Flooding and Mudslides Likely
The El Niño season is already underway. AccuWeather reports, “Confidence continues to grow that this El Niño will be one of the strongest over the past 50 years.” This weather pattern is defined as the sea temperature being above normal in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean.
Since the impact is expected to be similar to the 1997-1998 winter, it is likely California will be significantly affected. The Golden State will have more active weather patterns than last year. The result could mean tremendous amounts of rain from multiple systems in the same area, which is typical for El Niño patterns.
Residents may be victims of flooding and mudslides. “This will be especially true over recent burn scar areas [and] where wildfires have charred millions of acres.” According to FEMA, even people who typically would not be affected by flooding can still have significant risk from major, sustained storms. Sewer systems and storm drains can become over-filled and backup. Additionally, when water runs down hillsides, both the rain and mud could affect homes in the area.
Insurance experts and FEMA officials warned Californians to purchase flood insurance before El Niño began. AccuWeather meteorologists say that California could have triple the amount of snow in the northern and central mountains than last year. If this is the case, more snow will mean two things. First, the spring melt-off will feed the water table. Second, the same melt-off will also bring flooding and mudslides.
Flood Awareness and Preparedness
Knowledge is the first line of defense towards safety. It is important to know the different types of flooding and understand what the various terms mean.
- Flash floods are quickly rising streams; that typically occur after heavy rain or rapidly melting snow.
- Ice jams occur when ice accumulates, either by a natural or man-made obstruction, and it impedes the water flow.
- Urban floods happen when storm and sewer systems overflow due to rapidly melting snow or rain.
Understanding what to do before a flood is the best form of preparedness. A list of preparations is as follows:
- Know what the warnings mean. A flood or flash flood watch is issued when the rain or snow melt-off conditions cause concern. A flood warning means flooding will occur or is already happening. A flash flood warning means actual flash floods are occurring.
- Use FEMA’s floodsmart.gov’s Flood Risk Assessment to determine if a home or business is at risk.
- Heed FEMA’s advice and purchase flood insurance.
- Keep an eye on the drains near a home or business. Prevent flood water from backing up the drains by installing check valves in the sewer traps. Also, keep drains clear of debris and foreign objects, such as trash as well as leaves.
- Make a disaster supply kit and include items that can be used to fortify a building in the event of a flood. Some examples would be sandbags, plastic sheeting, plywood, and lumber.
What to do during a flood. Keep safe and follow any public official’s directions.
- Listen to the news on the television or radio for announcements, warnings, and evacuation instructions. If ordered to evacuate, leave immediately and follow the recommended routes.
- Secure the building, move outdoor items that could float away and turn off all the utilities, preferably at the central switch.
- Never drive a vehicle over a flooded road or stream. As little as a few inches of water will cause a car to float and stall.
Understanding the risks and being prepared is the best method for keeping safe. Whether a property owner or renter, heed the FEMA warning to all Californian residents and purchase flood insurance before El Niño hits. Remember that most insurance policies have a waiting period before they can be used. The video below is a U.S. National Weather Service Public Service Announcement entitled, Turn Around Don’t Drown.
By Cathy Milne
Edited by Leigh Haugh
Los Angeles Times: FEMA Urges Californians to Buy Flood Insurance Before El Niño
AccuWeather: U.S. El Niño Forecast: California, East to Bear Brunt of Impacts This Winter
FEMA: Are You Ready?
Featured Image Courtesy of Washington State Department of Transportation’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Inset Image Courtesy of David Marsh’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License