El Niño is a cute name, it means Christ child in Spanish, for a potentially dangerous weather pattern.
It’s when there’s a prolonged warming in the Pacific Ocean’s surface temperatures and that warmth affects weather all around the world. In the United States, the impact depends on where you live. You can expect warmer and drier winters in the northern half of the country and significantly wetter winters in the southern half. It also has the effect of amplifying storms, including snowfall, so preparation is very important.
Fortunately, forecasters can see these weather patterns develop far ahead of when they’ll impact our winters.
This will give us ample time to prepare, as best we can, so what can you do to prepare for El Niño?
Prepare for Heavy Rains
Those living in drought ridden California will welcome the rain but that’s the big weather pattern associated with El Niño. It’s a good time to prepare your house for heavy rains now, before it hits, and this means checking everything that could potentially have cracked, expanded or contracted, or otherwise degraded in the last year.
Carefully inspect your roof, as it’ll bear the brunt of the storm, but also the trim around windows, applying new caulk as necessary. Water will find any crack to enter your home, so inspect everything very carefully so you can avoid having to deal with repairs in the spring.
Clean out your gutters and downspouts as heavy rains can cause them to overflow and the water to go where it shouldn’t. Remember to clean them often or rely on gutter guards to avoid overflow. Overflow is dangerous because it means the water won’t be directed away from your home’s foundation. If you let the water flow towards your house, it could potentially find a way into your home.
Is your home lower than the surrounding area? Is there a high volume of storm runoff during big rains? Consider getting sandbags to help divert the water away from your home.
Check the drainage of other areas of your home too, like any balconies, decks or patios. Any pooling or flow towards the home is bad news, especially given the higher than expected rainfall.
In more northern climates, the warmer air can amplify snow storms but generally you should expect warmer climates. Months of snow will be replaced by rain. However, do not let your guard down and prepare for the winter as you normally would.
As part of your preparation, double check your insurance coverage, including whether or not you have flood insurance. Damage from heavy storms can be severe and you’ll want to be adequately protected. If you aren’t, damages could fall under casualty losses which may be tax deductible if you’re not covered by insurance. A casualty is damage, destruction, or loss of property from an identifiable event that is sudden, unexpected, or unusual.
Prepare for Loss of Power
If your area tends to lose power during storms, consider investing in a backup generator. If you have to use it, remember to keep it outside! Do not put it in your garage or an enclosed space. Make sure the exhaust points away from your home.
If you’ve been considering solar energy for electricity or geothermal pumps for heat, you can take advantage of energy efficient tax credits for installing these systems. Those systems will continue to work even after you’ve lost power, supplying valuable electricity during the day that you can use to power your home.
Stock Up on Emergency Supplies
When it comes to emergency supplies, prepare for El Niño as you would any major storm. Build an emergency kit that contains food, water, and other survival supplies for at least 72 hours. Various experts recommend that you keep a gallon per person per day for at least three days, with two quarts reserved for drinking and two for food preparation and sanitation. A family of four should store at least 12 gallons. While it’s unlikely to get this dire, it never hurts to be prepared.
Prepare an emergency kit for your car as well. In the event you are stuck in the snow, keep provisions, water, and blankets in the car to make sure you stay warm.
Finally, keep the phone numbers of emergency and non-emergency services nearby. If you end up needing them, you don’t want to call 911 for a non-emergency because it’s the only number you know. Keep them somewhere visible so you call the right services you need.
El Niño doesn’t have to be scary. It has some benefits. The northeast United States is going to get a break from the heavy snows of the last few years. California is finally going to get a heavy dose of rain to make up for the severe drought she’s been experiencing.