El Nino is coming to wet you

A little boy with a big attitude is heading Los Angeles’ way.

By Zachary Sierra, Staff Writer

Most people reading this may not recall the last time an El Niño rated “very strong” graced us with its presence. Since 1951, there have only been two systems as strong as this one is expected to be.

Remembering those storms, ex-Malibu Mayor Lou Lamonte said, “There was water everywhere; it was Biblical. I can’t believe how bad it was.” Malibu lost a pier, a bridge, and several roads during the eight-plus months of intense storms. The El Niño that now seems assured for this winter has the potential to overshadow even the destruction of 16 years ago, the largest on record.

El Niño is caused by oscillation in the water temperature across the equatorial Pacific. Differences of as little as 1 degree Celsius can cause radical shifts in global temperatures and rain patterns. For L.A. this means more rain – a lot more.

This may sound like a godsend for dried-up Los Angeles, but it may cause many more problems than it solves.

While much-needed precipitation will likely increase, most of it may come in torrential downpours. The type of rainfall best for restoration from drought conditions is described by the U.S. Geological Survey as a “soaking rain” (a period of protracted drizzle or light rain fall that does not cause significant flooding) or heavy mountain snowfall that can melt come spring. Thunderstorms and monsoon-style rains are often not absorbed into the water table due to the speed at which they dissipate and

the plants’ thirsty reaction to the initial rainfall after a long period of dryness. In Los Angeles this is exacerbated by the fact that large amounts of rainfall are directed to the ocean as part of runoff system, meaning even extreme rainfall can have only a superficial effect.

The problems these storms create, however, are not superficial. El Niño has been blamed for thousands of deaths since the phenomenon first came under observation in 1951. From floods to mudslides and even sinkholes, the effects can be swift and deadly. After the 1997-1998 El Niño, road-condition complaints rose over 400 percent here in Los Angeles. This was caused by the extreme rainfall washing away long dry soil beneath streets and sidewalks, causing brittle surfaces to crack due to lack of support. Considering the state’s protracted drought, this could be even more drastic than previously seen.

So is Los Angeles ready?

L.A. County Supervisor Hilda L. Solis, paired with Mayor Michael D. Antonovich, have introduced a motion on Aug. 18 to request information of our preparedness for a repeat of a “monster” El Niño. So far there has been no information released in response to the motion.

Unfortunately, that is about it. No major steps have been taken to provide a suitable flood-relief system or additional supplies to be amassed in care of an emergency situation. According to the motion submitted by Solis, there is a 90-percent chance that El Niño will happen this winter, and an 85-percent chance it will extend into spring. This could mean as much as seven months of extreme weather headed to the City of Angels

The Internet is filled with sites listing common sense protective measures such as avoiding water deeper than six inches and of course the timeless advice to head to higher ground. While they may seem rudimentary, following simple guidelines can prevent injury and death which often accompanies the El Nino system.

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