Environment & Science

El Niño is here. Here are 5 tips from Southern California officials

A stock photo of rainy weather at Griffith Observatory.
A stock photo of rainy weather at Griffith Observatory.
Bring Back Words/Flickr/Creative Commons

“It's time to cautiously, maybe pop some champagne.” 

That’s what meteorologist Bob Henson of Weather Underground told "Take Two" on Monday morning. Of course, he’s referring to the much-awaited El Niño. 

The weather phenomenon that drought-stricken Southern California has been anticipating for months is finally dropping some moisture to start the year. Monday’s sprinkles will be followed by heavier rain Tuesday. The National Weather Service said that by the end of the week, the series of storms could dump up to six inches of rain on parts of the Southland.

Local officials have been lining highways and hillsides with concrete barriers and sandbags. On Sunday, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti urged Angelenos to brace themselves.


Here’s what you need to know:

1. Slow down and keep a map handy

Caltrans will have 24-hour storm patrols in Los Angeles and Ventura counties, and the California Highway Patrol will be on the scene with equipment as well. But officials can’t stress enough that drivers need to slow down.

“It sounds really simple, but the reason why the CHP and Caltrans close the Grapevine on the I-5 is because of Southern California's driving behavior,” said Patrick Chandler of Caltrans. “You'll hear from people who are from the East Coast, the Midwest or Northern California say, ‘Well they never close when it snows.’ Problem is, people in Southern California will just drive the same speed.”

He advises drivers to turn their lights on during the day and night to see and to be seen. Also, don’t panic if your regular route closes down. 

“Now if there's for any reason that the I-5 is closed or we have another route closed, people can use this amazing thing,” said Chandler. “It's been around for centuries. It's called 'a map'… There are a lots of roads to take to get around.”

2. Beware of mudslides

Besides drought conditions, wildfires that burned swaths of vegetation recently have increased the chances of mudslides in some areas.

"We're very concerned with a lot of the areas where there has been a fire," said John Dumas of the National Weather Service. "When the rain comes down, it could start triggering the mud and the rocks and everything else to start coming down."

Bob Spencer at L.A. County Public Works said that residents need to understand the flood risk of their community, as some areas are more susceptible to mudflow. He notes that places like Malibu, Pacific Palisades and Glendora, where the Colby Fire burned almost 2,000 acres, should take special precautions and stock up on sandbags.

“If we do get inundated with water or mud, my house sits on a hill that goes around a corner,” Chris Ianniri of Glendora told NBC L.A. “The water will cut across through my yard to get to the other road.”

Ventura County, where the Solimar Fire burned more than a thousand acres, should also watch out, according to the weather service.

Click here for a list of fire stations giving out free sandbags for residents.

3. Have an emergency kit

In case an official issues an evacuation order, residents should be prepared to go. If you don’t have one already, prepare an emergency kit. The key items to include, according to the city of L.A.’s El Niño site:

  • Food and water to last you and your family 72 hours
  • First aid supplies
  • Any medical supplies you might need, like medications and spare eyeglasses. 
  • A flashlight with extra batteries in your emergency kit in case you lose power during a winter storm

4.  Prepare your home for flooding

Getting your home ready for rain mostly means clearing out gutters, checking for leaks and acquiring sandbags, according to an L.A. Times list of quick tips to prepare for El Niño.

Sandbags are available for free in several different locations throughout the county, both near beaches and inland areas.

“This is probably the first set of storms that we really think people should take advantage of these sandbags, because we are expecting this series of storms,” L.A. County Beaches and Harbors spokesperson Carol Baker said.

Directions to properly set up sandbags are available on the L.A. County Department of Public Works website, with directions to prevent storm and debris flow.

Aside from stacking the sandbags to protect your home, you can also prepare your home by considering a rain barrel and making sure that your sprinklers are turned off. 

A screenshot from L.A. County Beaches and Harbors' flyer on sandbag distribution.
A screenshot from L.A. County Beaches and Harbors' flyer on sandbag distribution.
L.A. County Beaches and Harbors

This won't protect your home in the same way, but you can go green by helping to put rainwater to use with a rain barrel. L.A.'s Watershed Protection Program's website lists benefits of owning a rain barrel, ranging from protecting creeks, rivers and oceans to lowering your water bill. Rain barrels collect about half a gallon of water for every inch of rain. The water can be reused for gardening — however, it is not safe for humans or animals to drink. Plus, the Metropolitan Water District offers a $75 rebate for a 50-pound barrel.

Turning off your sprinklers in the rain is another way that the L.A. Department of Water and Power recommends preparing for the wet week. 


5. Stay alert

“Stay informed, know how to get help,” said Spencer at L.A. County Public Works. 

For emergency notifications, the city of L.A. can alert you through text, voice message or email. Opt-in to the alerts here.

Correction: This article previously listed an inaccurate spelling of meteorologist Bob Henson's name. We regret the error.