Top Ten Wise Words to Consider When Preparing for El Niño

September, 30 2015

Author: Larry E. Fanning, PG, CEG

President, G3SoilWorks, Inc.

September 2015

To protect yourself and your property from El Niño, keep in mind the following:

1. Climate change in the California region is a reality. The effects of climate change in our area will include replacing conventional year to year predictability; where weather follows ordinary seasonal behavior with rain falling near average most of the time. This historic behavior will now likely be replaced by periods of drought followed by intervening periods of exceptional weather. These storm phenomena may focus heavy weather locally. NASA and NOAA both have models that strongly suggest this weather may be headed our way this winter and the upcoming year.

2. It is easy to get complacent during periods of extended drought: Trees go unpruned; Roof gutters and downspouts collect debris; Area drains fill with debris and dirt and can become root-infested; Swales and basins may go unchecked; and trash and litter accumulate. Many times in situations like this, flooding and damage develop because the systems in place to control drainage and convey it away quickly become choked with accumulated debris and are overrun.

3. All drainage devices and systems have finite capacities; no drainage system can accommodate ALL flows. Once the design limit is exceeded there is a risk of backup and flooding. All drains are susceptible to clogging, infilling, and blocked inlets / outlets. It is one thing for a drain to function with low flow clear water from a garden hose, but think about how that same drain would behave if the water came in fast and was laden with debris. Thus, a focus to minimize risk must include making sure water has the clearest paths possible to flow away safely.

4. Recognize that water flows downhill, and where it slows or stops it begins to lose its suspended sediment loads. Although often obvious in hindsight, many people forget this is important where subterranean garages, low areas, and pools are concerned; Make sure water cannot gain access to these low spots by using elevation (berms) and PROPER drains.

5. Recognize where you are and the hazards that may develop if a strong storm were to appear. Sometimes it’s more than just you and your property. This is particularly true in canyon / hillside / desert / arroyo areas. Know what is upstream of you. Be cognizant of how your drainage may affect your neighbors and local area – same for how your neighbors affect you. Take the time to see for yourself and to see if local agencies are doing their part to protect the community.

6. Erosion and slope instability can wipe out terrain in short order when large amounts of water appear quickly. Denuded (exposed) ground is particularly vulnerable. Burn areas are sensitive to the development of debris flows – even on “rock” slopes – as well as heavy mudflow and erosion.

7. Areas of clayey soils that have been allowed to dry out considerably tend to develop shrinkage cracks and have an “express” route into the deeper subsurface to eat away at slope stability. This occurs around foundations as well, and can cause damaging foundation movements.

8. Remember Murphy’s Law: if something is going to fail, it will, and at the worst time. SO why take a chance? It is much easier to fix something PRIOR to it failing.

9. Minimize Risk:

o Be aware of your surroundings – know your local drainage.

o Be aware of the changing weather; keep abreast of weather reports – most of these storm events will come with some warning. Keep informed of “monsoonal” weather occurrences if you live in susceptible areas; monitor developments and adjust accordingly.

o Be smart – do all you can to make sure your house and property are weather proofed: trees pruned, debris cleared, windows / doors made weather tight, and that all drainage is functioning well.

o Make drainage a focus of your regular maintenance, whether it’s a drought or a wet season.

10. Be Prepared:

o Make an action plan for storms. During breaks in the weather, make a point to inspect how everything is performing. Take the opportunity to clear out debris and keep drains open and flowing.

o Be prepared for the worst – have a contingency plan for emergencies and power outages. How long could you go without power and water services? What if you get stranded in your car due to weather?

o Be ready to evacuate! Sometimes, such as in the case of susceptible terrain and severe flash flooding, there is no action you can take but to evacuate. Have a plan in place and your evacuation “ready-to-go bags” prepared so when the time comes you can quickly secure your property and leave (preferably to a pre-designated location).

o Be diligent – being aware and prepared is only as effective as you make it.

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G3SoilWorks – a full service geotechnical / engineering geologic consulting firm, is pleased to reach our third year. It has come with many interesting clients, assignments and obstacles.

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Tel. 714-707-3155