Home & Garden

Get ready for El Niño before the rain comes

Video: El Niño is coming - here's what your house needs

Denise Sweeney of Orchard Supply Hardware in Folsom suggests basic supplies needed to prepare for major winter storms expected to hit California.
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Denise Sweeney of Orchard Supply Hardware in Folsom suggests basic supplies needed to prepare for major winter storms expected to hit California.

Are you ready for El Niño? If not, you could be all wet.

Almost constant sunny weather has lulled us Californians into complacency. After four years of epic drought, we may have forgotten what real rain looks like – and where water goes during a major storm. We may have made changes in our home landscapes that affect the way rainwater flows near our house. We may not know (yet) about leaky roofs or weakened tree limbs.

“You should be getting ready for El Niño now!” urged Denise Sweeney, assistant manager of Orchard Supply Hardware in Folsom. “You need to be prepared for all kinds of emergencies. The drought has been so bad, but now we need to think about flooding.”

Preparedness starts with having the right tools on hand. Fighting storm waters and potential flooding starts simple: Clean up fallen leaves before the rains come.

“You’ve got to keep your drainage clear and leaves cleaned up,” Sweeney said. “If you have trees, you need at least a rake, shovel, broom and gutter scoops.”

The more prepared, the better you and your home will withstand this winter’s El Niño storms, which are forecast throughout California. Rainfall is expected to be at least “normal” – 17 inches in the Sacramento area. But there’s up to a 40 percent chance we could see considerably more.

“The thing about an El Niño, when it starts falling, it comes down hard and fast,” Sweeney said. “You won’t have time to run down to the hardware store for supplies.”

As a reminder of how bad and how quickly storm conditions can get, Sweeney pointed to recent flooding in South Carolina. “Even after the rain stopped, floodwaters kept rising,” she said. “That should be a big wake-up call for us. We live in a flood plain. Flood is always a threat here.”

To help get ready for the rain, Sweeney and other home experts made some pre-El Niño recommendations:

Start with the roof. Check for leaks and make repairs. Clear off accumulated leaves and debris that can cause water to pool on your roof. How do you spot a leaky roof before a storm? Look for telltale water spots or yellowish discolored paint on ceilings, according to Angie’s List, the home services referral network. Be on the lookout for loose or missing shingles. Pay attention for gaps or loose flashing around chimneys and other roof intrusions. Repair trouble spots with roof patch and leak seal materials. Call in professionals for larger repairs.

Just in case, have waterproof tarps on hand along with ropes to secure them in place, Sweeney said.

Make sure your gutter system works. Gutters are your roof’s first line of storm defense. They’re designed to channel rain off the roof. Keep gutters clean and well maintained. Attach a “Gutter Wand” – a flexible telescoping tube – to a garden hose to help clear debris from gutters, Sweeney said. Once the gutters are clear, keep them leaf-free with mesh screens, foam toppers or other gutter accessories.

Direct the flow. An inch of rain adds up to 600 gallons per 1,000 square feet of roof. Install removable downspout adapters and flexible drain coils to the gutter system’s downspouts to guide water away from the foundation, Sweeney said.

“You don’t want water to collect around the foundation,” she said. “You especially don’t want it coming inside.”

The flexible drain coils can redirect the rainwater into a rain barrel or other collection system for future use or a “rain garden” – a gravel-lined basin away from the house that allows the water to percolate into the ground.

Determine trouble spots. Water tends to collect in low spots, which can lead to flooding. Keep that water from entering your home or garage with sand bags. Have them ready and set in place before rain starts. If you fill them yourself, 30-pound sand bags cost less than $3 apiece.

“They’re inexpensive storm insurance,” Sweeney said. “Sandbags are a fast way to redirect water. Each layer of sandbags represents 3 to 4 inches of added flood protection.”

For best coverage, stagger sandbags in an overlapping pattern like brickwork.

Check around windows and doors. Repair weatherstripping and any leaks to keep the rain out. Caulking also helps keep heat indoors and cold, wet weather out.

Know the locations of your gas and water shut-off valves. Shut-off tools, available at home centers and hardware stores, attach to your systems in case of an emergency and are easy to use.

Protect your garden, especially new landscapes. Cover bare spots (such as the spot where that lawn used to be) with burlap cover. Take advantage of fallen leaves; use them as mulch around plants.

“You want to keep your soil in place and not let it flow away,” Sweeney said. “You need that erosion control, especially on slopes.”

Keep an eye on trees. Besides dropping leaves, they may drop limbs – especially if those trees have been weakened by drought. Consult an arborist and evaluate trees before storms hit.

“A chain saw also can come in handy in case branches fall,” Sweeney said.

Make a basic emergency kit. That includes a flashlight, lantern, glow sticks, battery-powered radio, batteries and other supplies. Remember bottled water: 1 gallon per person per day.

“You should be ready for three days in case of an emergency,” Sweeney said. “You don’t think about needing water in a flood, but your water (out of the tap) may be contaminated.

“Also, don’t forget pets,” she added. “Make an emergency kit for your dog or cat. Take a 5-gallon bucket and fill it with a bag of dry food or canned food, bottled water, leash, blanket and a toy.”

Store big bags of ice in the freezer. According to the experts at Family Handyman magazine, that ice will keep freezer contents cold in case of power failure. Or they may be transferred to the refrigerator or ice chests to keep food cold. When the ice melts, it provides more drinking water.

Get a power inverter. This inexpensive gadget turns your car into an emergency generator, says Family Handyman. It converts the car’s DC electrical current into AC current for electrical gadgets such as your cellphone and tablet.

Have rain gear handy. This goes beyond an umbrella. Rubber boots, plastic rain suits and rainproof ponchos keep you dry while handling outdoor emergencies. Have on hand waterproof tarps and rope to protect things quickly. Plastic buckets can be helpful, too.

“Buckets are a last resort (for leaks),” Sweeney said, “but they can come in handy.”

Debbie Arrington: 916-321-1075, @debarrington

Preparedness workshops

Orchard Supply Hardware will host drop-in safety clinics at all Sacramento-area locations geared to specific preparedness themes:

9, 10 and 11 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 17: Emergency preparedness clinic. Inspired by recent California wildfires, this clinic focuses on all sorts of natural disasters including fire, flood and earthquake. Learn how to put together an emergency kit and plans of action.

9, 10 and 11 a.m. Nov. 14: El Niño preparedness clinic. This clinic specifically targets storm and flood dangers and what to expect when it starts to rain – hard. Learn how to be ready for major storms and their aftermaths.

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