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El Niño Home-Preparedness and Safety Tips

How to brace for what could be a whopper of a winter


By Ellen Anderson, Pacific Union Senior Vice President/Regional Executive, Contra Costa County

We’ve all heard the warnings about the El Niño storms set to hammer Northern California this winter, but how prepared are you, really? A new umbrella and a pair of waterproof boots aren’t enough. What about your home?

Weather forecasts call for torrential rain and scattered flooding across the Bay Area in the months ahead. But forewarned is forearmed, and the steps you take now will greatly improve your chances of weathering the storms high and dry.


  • When was the last time you checked your home’s gutters and downspouts to make sure they were clear of leaves and debris? Get on a ladder and clean them out, then repeat after the next heavy rain. Check to make sure gutters are tight against the roofline.
  • What about storm drains on or near your property? Check them periodically, and promptly remove debris or be prepared for a small lake in your front yard.
  • Consider a quick touch-up paint job if the exterior wood trim is cracked. Cracks can carry water into the wood and promote dry rot.
  • Invest in a generator and a sump pump if you have a basement or other below-grade spaces.
  • Check balconies and decks to make sure water flows away from the walls. And make sure your yard drains properly. Place three to four inches of mulch in flower beds and areas where water will drain or collect.
  • Install rain barrels at downspouts to capture water for later use. Make sure you direct the overflow away from the house.
  • The ground may have become compacted during the drought and will repel water initially. Loosen soil by tilling in compost and covering with mulch.
  • Turn off your automatic watering system.
  • Store emergency repair materials such as sandbags and plastic sheeting in a safe, dry place.


  • Make sure your car is running properly. Do the tires have enough tread to drive safely on rain-slick roads? Install new wiper blades. Check your car’s lights, battery, and brakes.
  • Never try to drive through a flood. It takes just 12 inches of flowing water to carry off a small car and 18 to 24 inches for larger vehicles. If you are in your car when the water begins to rise quickly, abandon it and move to higher ground.
  • Put together preparedness and disaster-supply kits for your home and car, although hopefully you already have these. The Bay Area is earthquake country, after all.
  • Store family items and important documents on the highest level of your home. If you live in a single-floor home, put items on shelves, tables, or countertops. Secure important documents online or on a thumb drive.
  • Do not walk through flood areas; just six inches of water can sweep you away. Make sure your children know to always turn away from floodwaters.


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