Posted in Disaster Preparedness, safety plans and procedures, Tornadoes, Winter Weather Hazards

El Niño & the Risks of Unpredictable Weather 

Tornado icon.The early January storms in Southern California brought not only rain and wind, but also a rare tornado warning for Los Angeles and San Diego (which would have likely rained fish tacos!). While the warnings didn’t pan out, meteorologists agree that 2016 will bring an increased chance of storms of many types across the entire country.

Thanks to El Niño, emergency management professionals across the country are gearing up for what may be a banner year for weather. In fact, citing a worrying El Niño storm pattern this winter that could rival flooding in 1997 and 1998, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has prepared a 66-page Severe El Niño Disaster Response Plan targeted to milder climates such as California and other western states. I would read the whole thing, but it’s hard for me to turn the pages since I don’t have opposable thumbs.

What exactly is El Niño? As the official mascot for RJWestmore, leaders in disaster preparedness training, I need to know such things!  Technically, it is the warm phase of the El Niño Southern Oscillation (commonly called ENSO). In simple terms, bands of warmer ocean water develop near the equator. This abnormally warm ocean water then alters the atmospheric conditions to produce unpredictable weather events. Here are some tips for handling several potential facets of El Niño weather and tips for preparing your building for severe weather. I also have some “Carolina style” BBQ tips if that is relevant? They always seem relevant to me.

Perform Storm Water Inspections of Your Properties

Conduct a property walk-through to spot water drainage problems that could be aggravated by El Niño storms. While on the walk-through:

  • Check drainpipes and other piping used to channel rainwater. Be sure these are free of debris to potentially handle large quantities of water. I once backed up a drain at the firehouse. I’ll admit it was probably too much bacon grease. Review storm patterns and associated damage from previous years to identify potential problem areas.
  • If your building has water pumps, ensure they remain in good working condition. Remove debris from strainers.
  • If storm drains are severely backed up, you may need to hire a professional who has tools such as cameras to quickly identify and solve the problem.
  • We’ve got some serious surveillance equipment in our doghouse—the “Cat Detectormatic 9000” and the “Ultrasonic Porkchop Finder 2.5.” They were great investments.
  • Test the drainage system for leaks. This is especially important in areas that house electrical equipment.
  • Does your building have ground-level storage or parking areas? Check the grading to identify areas which may be susceptible to flooding. Sandbags and other measures can help channel water flow away from high traffic areas. Whiskers and Tabby tried to help once by pouring cat litter into shopping bags; it didn’t work out.

Managing Snowfall

The Weather Channel’s Winter Storm Central details the typical effects of El Niño and La Nina relative to snow patterns. The hope is that the subtropical or southern-branch jet stream, typically turbo-charged during strong El Niño, will deliver long-awaited relief for at least some in the West. However, no one can equivocally guarantee that the drought will end even if El Niño performs as expected. The good news is that, so far this year, California is already experiencing heavier snowfall than normal, with several feet reported.

Winter City
How to Handle Snow:

  • Use chains. Necessary even if you have a four-wheel drive vehicle, snow chains provide the traction necessary to escape snow-packed surfaces, though they remain relatively useless for traversing slick ice. Thankfully, as Dalmatian, I have all-time, four-wheel drive and amazing stability. Practice putting chains on your car in the comfort of your driveway instead of opening the package for the first time while you are stranded at the side of the road during a blizzard.
  • Keep exhaust pipes clear. If the pipe is blocked while the car is running, shovel an area around it for the gases to escape, instead of allowing them to filter back into the car.
  • Work with other motorists. If you are stranded during a snowstorm, make contact with other people so you can pool resources such as food, water, charged devices, and other items from your emergency supply kit. Dogs do this at the dog park, usually by sniffing each other.
  • Stay with the vehicle. Unless you have veered off the road, stay with the car as it will provide a certain degree of shelter.

Prepping your Building

Rain, tornadoes, and snow from El Niño could lead to a wide range of disaster threats this year. Here are some tips to help you (and building occupants) survive and resume normal operations as quickly as possible:

  • Use backup generators to provide a source of electricity to run sump pumps and to provide essential services to stranded occupants. You also need electricity to check your favorite Twitter accounts. My handle is @RJtheFiredog. I’m well on my way to reaching 2,000 followers! Feel free to tweet and follow me too for some sage advice.
  • If applicable, paint your building (especially wood trim) with treated paint, which will repel water.
  • Conduct flood-proofing of your building, including the use of sandbags, attention to gutters, altering rooflines, and other fixes. FEMA has an extension section devoted to flood-proofing. I know I talk about bacon a lot, but just consider the use of congealed bacon fat as an amazing waterproofing sealant. You can use that fancy “caulk” stuff, but I’ll take bacon fat any day!

The effect of El Niño are global, with NASA predicting “weather chaos.” A theme of El Niño weather events is their unpredictability, with unusually-timed floods, blizzards, and the potential for tornadoes in unexpected places. Planning for the unexpected is a requirement for building and safety managers, so follow best practices to protect lives and property in 2016.

Remember that safety is a daily priority, so be sure to think safety all of the time. A convenient and affordable way to make sure you are prepared for disasters and emergencies of virtually every kind is to subscribe to the RJWestmore Training System by Universal Fire/Life Safety Services, which has been designed to help improve and save lives. For more information about the best system out there, or to subscribe, click here.

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Author:

RJ the Fire Dog is the mascot for RJ Westmore, Inc., the premiere provider for e-based fire life safety training for residents and workers in high-rise buildings. His young son, JR, sometimes takes over writing his posts. RJ also maintains an active Twitter account, which he posts to when he isn’t working in the firehouse. The RJWestmore Training System helps commercial buildings with compliance to fire life safety codes. Our interactive, building-specific e-learning training system motivates and rewards tenants instantly! It’s a convenient and affordable solution to all of the training needs of your building(s). Choosing our service cuts property management training related workloads by 90% and saves you over 50%