Environment & Science

OC launches El Niño website to urge residents to get prepared

Orange County Board of Supervisors Chairman Todd Spitzer holds up an emergency preparedness book urging residents to get ready for a stormy El Nino winter with potential for flooding.
Orange County Board of Supervisors Chairman Todd Spitzer holds up an emergency preparedness book urging residents to get ready for a stormy El Nino winter with potential for flooding. "The general rule is you need to be prepared to take care of yourself for up to three days," he said. December 16, 2015
Erika Aguilar/KPCC

Listen to story

00:49
Download this story 0.0MB

Don’t let the sunny, crisp fall air fool you, Orange County officials warned Wednesday. El Niño is coming and residents should be prepared.

“The severity of the storm can come really quickly and can change quickly,” said Orange County Supervisor Andrew Do.

Do was among county officials who unveiled a new emergency preparedness website — OCElNino.com — offering tips on storm preparation and contact numbers.

Federal meteorologists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said last week the anticipated El Niño pattern is still on track to be one of the strongest in recorded history.

Water temperatures in the Pacific were above average, warmer than temperatures in November 1997, the report stated, while winds have also weakened allowing more warm water to reach the Southern California coast for a wet and stormy winter.

"The last time our county got pounded was in 1997," said O.C. Board of Supervisors Chairman Todd Spitzer. On December 7 of that year, seven inches of rain fell in Orange County in one day. "It inundated all of our cities and all their capacity to deal with flooding," he said.

In South Orange County, the concern is for the burned out canyon hillsides.

About 200 acres burned in July at Highway 241, south of Santiago Canyon Road near Irvine Lake. Last year in September, the Silverado Fire south of Corona consumed nearly 970 acres.

Then there are the 2008 Freeway Complex and Santiago Fire in 2007 which both burned more than 28,000 acres each.

“We are very afraid of what a significant amount of rain will do in terms of mud debris,” said O.C. Board of Supervisors Chairman Todd Spitzer.

If Orange County is expected to receive six inches of rain in a 24-hour period, officials will activate the emergency operations center. Mass evacuations and declarations of emergency from two or more cities in Orange County will also trigger activation. 

“If we are seeing our burn area and looking at a forecast that will put us into a possible debris flow in those burn areas, we will activate this facility,” said Donna Boston, director of emergency management with the O.C. Sheriff’s Department.

Emergency responders are asking residents to clear out gutters, surround homes with sandbags to protect vulnerable areas from flooding, and inspect trees that have been weakened by the drought.

Orange County Public Works Director Shane Silsby said some crews have shifted from regular operations and maintenance to emergency preparedness procedures.

“Instead of that person going out and doing some channel clearing for nuisance trash,” he said. “They are assigned to do sediment removal in a facility that would be more susceptible to flooding.” 

Do said county workers have been walking the Santa Ana River bed where hundreds of homeless people live to warn them.

Last week, county supervisors approved $500,000 to negotiate contracts with non-profit homeless shelters for emergency beds in case of bad weather.

Approximately 440 homeless people are living in 30 different regions of the Santa Ana River bed, according to a county spokesperson.

“We believe on a temporary basis we do have the ability to meet the need of all those people,” said Do.

Officials will be using the hashtag #OCElNino for storm-related emergency information.