Are Your Roofing and Rain Gutter Systems Prepared for a Southern California El Niño?


Photograph: NOAA

For nearly a decade, things have been shaping up for a large El Niño event which could significantly affect Southern California residents. Though it is hard to believe as we sit in one of the worst droughts on record, all you have to do is look at the current meteorological forecasts in the news, talk to local fishermen, or have a discussion with local farmers and almost all predictions and models point to an El Niño event this fall or winter.

If you’ve lived in the Los Angeles or Orange County areas long enough, you’ll know that it eventually rains in Southern California. Almost always, property owners are caught with their pants down, scrambling in an emergency, reactive manner as their roofs begin to leak, rain gutters begin to clog, and overgrown trees begin to fall. But it doesn’t have to be this way... In fact, proactive preventative roof and gutter maintenance will drastically save you money, time and heartache in the end.

Photo: NSDC

Listen to the Experts

El Niño is a phenomenon characterized by warmer sea surface water in the equatorial Eastern Pacific Ocean. It is often associated with greater rainfall on much of the U.S. West Coast and frequently enhances the encroachment of storm surges by raising regional sea level for several months at a time. An El Niño is defined by a seasonal sea surface temperature anomaly in the eastern/central equatorial Pacific greater than 0.5° C (0.9° F) warmer than historical average temperature. The opposite phenomenon known as La Niña is defined as a seasonal sea surface temperature anomaly 0.5° C (0.9° F) colder than the historical average.

Currently NOAA forecasts a probability of El Niño conditions 70 percent during the Northern Hemisphere summer and reaching 80 percent during the fall and winter. Additionally, the European Centre for Medium-range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF), which is considered one of the most reliable of the 15 or so prediction centers around the world is predicting an El Niño in 90% of their forecasting scenarios. “It is very much odds-on for an event,” states Tim Stockdale, principal scientist at ECMWF.

The reports and forecasts do not end there however, as the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego seems to support these findings with their El Niño forecast model predicting since last December an El Niño occurring in the winter of 2014.

These grim forecasts are leaving federal funding agencies and local Southern California communities scrambling to prepare for the “Great Wet Hope”. As Scripps physical oceanographer Dan Rudnick put it, “If an El Niño is brewing at the equator, we’re going to feel the effects pretty much immediately here in Southern California.”

Learn from the Past

Though El Niño patterns tend to occur every 7-10 years, their degree and intensity directly correlate to the temperature of the Pacific Ocean and which way the winds blow. Predicting the potential intensity or damage is fairly difficult, but we can learn from the past. According to national Geographic, the last major El Niño event occurred in 1997-98, causing at least 33 billion (U.S) dollars in property damage world wide. Prior to that, it was the 1982-82 El Niño which went largely undetected by scientists until it was well under way. That event caused more than $13 billion (U.S.) in economics loss worldwide.

Knowing that our Pacific Ocean temperatures are at highest since the last 1997-98 El Niño, and knowing what the potential for damages could be, it makes total since for property owners to get prepared for this winter and fall.


Photo: The Guardian

Be Prepared

Though much of the economic damages in Southern California of a major El Niño occur due to infrastructure damage, crop loss and manufacturing production loss, a significant amount of the losses due to property damage and flooding. The California Coastal Commission has put out a General Checklist for Property Preparedness for El Niño which Los Angeles and Orange County residents should follow. We’ve taken that list below and expanded upon it for your convenience:

Yard Clean-up: Make a general inspection of your entire yard for dead trees, 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 frantic scrambling to collect items that have landed on your roof or in your neighbors’ yards.

Roof Inspection: Thoroughly inspect your roof, or hire a licensed roofing contractor, to check for loose tiles, shingles, shakes or holes. Consider a thorough roof maintenance in preparedness for the El Niño, ensuring your contractor repairs visible leaks, reseals all roof penetrations and inspects your chimney and skylights. Be prepared and have a licensed roofing contractor who performs 24/7 emergency roofing service in your cell phone or black book. Though an expensive and dangerous proposition, an emergency tarp or roof leak repair in the middle of an El Niño storm by a licensed professional can prevent thousands of dollars of additional interior damages from flooding and leaks.

Clear Drains and Gutters: Make sure all scupper drains, overflow drains, leader heads, downspouts and rain gutters are cleared of debris and functioning properly before storm season. If buildings do not have gutters and drains, consider having them installed. Storm water run-off from impermeable surfaces (e.g., sloped roofs, flat roofs, driveways, decks and patios) should be directed into a collection system to avoid soil saturation and directed away from the property. A thorough roof maintenance by a licensed roofing contractor, aside from checking for roof leak areas, should include the clearing of debris from your rain gutter system.

Retaining Walls: Visually inspect all retaining wall drains, surface drains, culverts, ditches, etc. for obstructions or other signs of malfunction, before the storm season, and after every storm event.

Slopes: Visually inspect all sloped areas for signs of gullying, surface cracks, slumping etc. Also inspect patios, retaining walls, garden walls, etc. for signs of cracking or rotation. Such signs might be indications of slope movement and if you notice any problems, it would be prudent to have the site inspected by a geotechnical engineer.

Bare Ground: Make sure your yard does not have large bare areas which could be sources for mudflows during a storm event. The fall is a good time to put down mulch and establish many native plants; it may be possible to vegetate these bare areas before the storm season.

Storm Drains: Visually inspect nearby storm drains, before the storm season and after every rain; if the storm drains are obstructed, clear the material from the drain or notify the Department of Public Works or public agency responsible for drain maintenance.

Plan of Action: If, after taking prudent steps to prepare your property for winter storms, you still have some concerns about slope stability, flooding, mudflows, etc., consider stockpiling sandbags and plastic sheeting. The sandbags can be stacked to form a barrier to keep water from flooding low areas. Plastic sheeting and visqueen can be placed on slopes and secured with sand bags to prevent water from eroding the surface. Prepare for power outages by having food, water, candles and matches. Additionally, keep your property insurance paperwork at the ready in order to contact your carrier for any emergency losses. A terrific resource for storm damage information is the National Storm Damage Center, an independent organization that provides consumer education and resources to property owners.

As with other natural events that are seen here in Southern California, such as earthquakes and fires, being prepared, remaining proactive and having an emergency plan of action tend to diminish your risks and potential for property losses from an El Niño event. We urge you to share this information with your friends and family.

This post is authored by Trevor Leeds - president of Chandler's Roofing

Chandler's Roofing

15331 S Avalon Blvd
Gardena, CA 90248


71713 Hwy 111
Ste 104
Rancho Mirage, CA 92270



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