El Niño Checklist: 15 Things to Prepare Your Home Now

A winter storm blows through San Francisco during the 2015-2016 El Niño season. Photo: Kyle Legg, 49Miles.com

el-ninoReady or not, here comes El Niño. And if it’s everything forecasters have been predicting, this fall and winter could answer the prayers of drought-stricken Californians. However, be careful what you wish for: Last week a strong storm system brought heavy rains to Central California, causing flooding, mudslides, property damages and at least one death.

As defined by NASA, El Niño occurs when warm water builds up along the equator in the eastern Pacific. The warm ocean surface warms the atmosphere, which allows moisture-rich air to rise and develop into rainstorms.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Climate Prediction Center (NOAA) is predicting that the first heavy rains brought on by El Niño may hit Northern California in early November. (Though, nothing can be promised.) While El Niño is a completely unpredictable weather pattern (there are equal chances we will face moderate and devastating rainstorms), it’s important to plan ahead to protect yourself, your family and your home before it’s too late. You can never prepare for an unforeseeable emergency too early!


  1. Assemble or replenish emergency supply kits. In the event of a dire emergency, you need to be able to get by on your own for at least three days. This means a three day supply of nonperishable food and water for each person in your household, a first aid kit, batteries, flashlights, warm clothing, etc. Keep any important records (mortgage papers, insurance policies, etc.), valuables, and other documents in a safe deposit box or in a safe/dry area in an upper level of your home. You can use this checklist provided by the California Department of Public Health.
  2. Fix any leaks before the rain comes. It’s been hot and dry in the Bay Area recently and that may have caused wood structures to warp, creating leak points. Call your roofer to check for any trouble spots and repair old leaks.
  3. Clean out your rain gutters. And keep cleaning them. It’s important to clear debris from rain gutters and downspouts ahead of a rainy season. And after the first rain—clean them out again. While cleaning your gutters and downspouts, be on the look out for any breaks, and make sure the gutters are highly installed against the roof. You should also seal holes from cables and other wires penetrating exterior walls.
  4. Paint exterior trim of your home. Cracks in paint carry water directly into wood, causing dry rot and creating the perfect opportunity for termite invasion.
  5. Check balconies and deck slopes to make sure water flows away from exterior walls and into your drainage system.
  6. Examine your windows. The recent hot, dry weather may have caused your windows’ glazing compound to shrink and pull away from the glass panes, which can allow rain to penetrate the panes. This is a quick fix: check and recaulk as needed.
  7. Purchase sandbags and store in a safe, dry place. Remember last year’s Stormageddon which left more than 100,000 PG&E customers in the dark, just in San Francisco? Yeah, we haven’t forgotten either. Many Bay Area residents purchased sandbags to prevent water from invading their property. If you live in an area prone to flooding, it wouldn’t hurt to have a few on hand—just in case. NBC Bay Area compiled this directory of Bay Area sandbag locations for last year’s Stormageddon.
  8. Get flood insurance. If you do not already have flood insurance, you may want to purchase it for this particularly rainy season. If you already have flood insurance, check with your insurance agent to ensure you have enough coverage.
  9. Invest in a generator. If your neighborhood is susceptible to power outages, purchasing a portable generator can help you keep the lights on during a strong rainstorm.
  10. Service your sump pump, or install a sump pump. Even with a solid drainage system in place, groundwater can quickly fill garages and basements with enough rain. If you already own a sump pump, call your plumber to service it. If your garage or basement is prone to filling with water, you may want to invest in having a sump pump installed.
  11. Bring in an exterminator. If you have noticed an influx of ants or other bugs taking refuge in your house during past rainy seasons, now is the time to call an exterminator.
  12. Clean up your yard and secure any outdoor furniture. Make a general inspection of your entire yard area for dead trees or dead limbs, yard debris, outdoor furniture, or other objects that could be blown by storm winds. An afternoon spent tidying up the yard and either storing furniture and other loose items indoors or securing them can prevent a frantic scramble to collect items that have landed on your roof or in your neighbors’ yards.
  13. Place mulch in beds and areas where water will drain or collect. If ponding is a problem in your backyard, you should consider increasing the percentage of your yard that can absorb rainwater. You may need to consult with an irrigation and drainage specialist.
  14. Reinforce fencing. With high winds and heavy rains expected throughout the season, now is the time to ensure your fencing is secure. This is especially important if you have pets who spend a lot of time in your yard—you don’t want them to escape if fencing fails.
  15. Live on a hillside? Talk to your neighbors. If your home is nestled on a hillside below another home, you should find out where your neighbor’s property drains. If they’ve changed the natural flow path, they may be liable for any damage caused by storm runoff from their property onto yours.

San Francisco provides a variety of channels to access emergency information. To receive free emergency text message and email alerts during this El Niño year, you can sign up at www.AlertSF.org.


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