Here's how you can prepare for El Niño

It’s going to be a wet and windy winter for San Francisco – thanks to El Niño.

Scientists predict that this year’s El Niño will be one of the strongest weather systems in recent history. According to the U.S. Climate Prediction Center, current ocean conditions are tantamount to what experts saw before the wild El Niño winters of 1997-98 and 1982-83. The projected severity of this year’s El Niño could lead to regional power outages, roadway closures and major public transportation delays.

What is El Niño?

El Niño is a climatic cycle caused by unusual wind patterns across the Pacific Ocean. Originally named “El Niño de Navidad” by a Peruvian fisherman in the 1600’s, the cycle begins when warmer waters from southeast Asia shift towards the equator. El Niño conditions occur every three to five years, with each cycle lasting from nine to twelve months.

According to climate scientist Michelle L’Heureux, El Niño conditions aren’t just about water temperatures but how “the atmosphere above the ocean responds to these [temperature] changes.” Although scientists don’t know what triggers an El Niño cycle, experts are able to predicate severe weather patterns from the tell-tale temperature shift along the equator.

Although October and November have been relatively dry for San Francisco, forecasters predict that the Bay Area will see most of its moisture after Christmas. Many hope that severe storms this winter will help relieve California’s drought-stricken landscape but experts warn that there is no guarantee El Niño rains will fall where the Golden State needs it the most.

How Can San Franciscans Prepare for Extreme Winter Weather?

Severe El Niño storms could wreak havoc on busy roadways this winter. The California Highway Patrol urges drivers to research roadway conditions prior to their commute and to be extra alert in areas of low visibility. Severe flooding may lead to freeway closures throughout the state, which would affect traffic this holiday season. Drivers are advised to check their brakes and tire pressure before long commutes, avoid stopping on busy freeways and be cautious of debris that may fall onto the roadway.

Homeowners and businesses are also advised to prepare their homes and facilities against flooding and water damage. Kristin Hogan Schildwachter, government affairs manager for the San Francisco Department of Emergency Management, suggests that families have a predetermined evacuation plan in case of an emergency. She also recommends having extra supplies on hand like batteries, flashlights and non-perishable food. Additionally, here are the steps individuals and property owners can take in preparation for El Niño according to California’s Office of Emergency Services:

  • If you haven’t already done so, assemble or replenish your emergency supply kits.
  • Make sure your gasoline tank is full in case power outages render gasoline pumps inoperable.
  • Check with your insurance agent to make sure you have flood insurance.
  • Store valuables, insurance policies, mortgage papers and other documents in a safe deposit box.
  • Clear debris from your rain gutters and storm drains.
  • Check retaining walls for weakness and modify if necessary.
  • Purchase sandbags, plastic sheeting, plywood, lumber and other supplies.

For more information on El Niño and what you can do to prepare, please visit

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