From the Mountains to the Coast: Preparing for a Strong El Nino

Dec 10, 2015

The strong El Nino forecast could mean heavy rains this winter along with flooding and mudslides.  Emergency managers have been urging everyone to get ready, but what does being prepared look like?  

LizAnne and Ken Jensen have a pretty good idea.  Outside their home in the Santa Cruz Mountains, dozens of emergency supplies are neatly laid out on a tarp.  LizAnne is taking inventory of this neighborhood emergency preparedness kit.

“Why don’t we start over here with the kitchen preparation supplies? We have 100 paper plates,” says LizAnne Jensen.  She ticks of a few more disposable supplies, like paper napkins, before noting, “if water is in short demand, you are not going to want to use it cleaning.”

The kit is  large enough to fit into a 55 gallon can on wheels, like the kind you use for recycling.  It can be rolled anywhere need on the Jensen’s street in Bonny Doon.  “We have about 30 homes here, and we’re all organized together to respond in case of an emergency,” she says.

After living in the Santa Cruz Mountains for nearly 40 years, LizAnne has seen it all: fires, earthquakes, landslides and floods.  So being prepared for this strong El Nino year is just part of life.  “Most people who live up in the mountains, or who have been up here for a while, are really self-reliant,” says Jensen.

The Jensens are also members of the Bonny Doon CERT (community emergency response team).  It’s a national organization that trains and organizes community volunteers to help in an emergency.  So it’s safe to say their level of preparedness is above average.

Aside from taking charge of this neighborhood emergency kit, the Jensens also personal kits in their house and cars – in case they’re stranded away from home.

And outside their home, they’ve cut back trees and removed any that could potentially fall on the house in a storm.  They’ve also worked on the drainage.

“That channels water away from our house, and soo if you are on a sloped area, which many people are, water is just going to sheet down if it’s raining really hard.   If you can find ways to direct or divert it, that’s a good thing,” says Jensen.

So they’re ready when and if the heavy rains come.

“We’re not waiting for El Nino.  El Nino is here,” says Mark Strudley, National Weather Service Hydrologist.

He says one thing you can do to prepare is simply pay close attention to the five day weather forecast.  “That’s where you are going to find information about a specific storm system that might be impacting the Monterey Bay Area.  How much rainfall we might get and if that may engender flood concerns or flood threats,” says Strudley.

He says the last two comparable El Nino periods were 1982 to 83 and 1997 to 98.  Those winters weren’t just a problem for mountain communities, but also low lying areas like parts of Salinas, Carmel and Santa Cruz.

Paul Horvat is Emergency Services Manager for the City of Santa Cruz .  He recommends sand bags for people in low lying areas, and that everyone makes sure their family shares one out of town contact.

“So for us, my mother lives in Southern California and we all have her phone number and for whatever reason we can’t check in with each other we can all call her and she can let each other know that were all doing fine,” says Horvat.

LizAnne Jensen she says they’re probably over prepared, but she hopes its instructive for others.

“You know you can start small and then if you are paying attention you can say' 'Oh. that may be something good for my kit', and then you can just keep adding to it,” says Jensen.

Click  through the pictures above to see Jensen's emergency preparedness kit lists for  the Well-Equipped Home / Neighborhood Kit, the Well-Equipped Car Kit and the Well-Equipped Bedside Kit (in case of an earthquake).  For printable PDFs email kalmanzan@kazu.org

Bonny Doon CERT has also created a 2016 calendar that features emergency preparedness tips throughout the year.