How to prepare for massive storm that’s hitting California

It’s shaping up to be another wet week in California.

A storm battered the state on New Year’s Eve, dumping epic amounts of water on Northern California — including 5.46 inches of rain on San Francisco, the city’s second-wettest day in more than 170 years, according to the National Weather Service. And more is coming: A “life-threatening weather event” hit the state Wednesday, unleashing strong winds and sheets of rain, heightening fears of widespread flooding and debris flows.

For the record:

10:40 a.m. Jan. 4, 2023A previous version of this article incorrectly identified Bryan La Sota’s employer and incorrectly cited a quote from Karla Nemeth.

California needs more rain. We’re still firmly entrenched in drought territory, despite the bigger-than-average snowpack generated by the recent weather. But heavy rain after years of drought can cause potentially deadly floods and mudslides.

“The significant Sierra snowpack is good news, but unfortunately these same storms are bringing flooding to parts of California,” said Karla Nemeth, director of the state Department of Water Resources, in a press release. “This is a prime example of the threat of extreme flooding during a prolonged drought as California experiences more swings between wet and dry periods brought on by our changing climate.”

Rain is expected to continue through Friday, and then more rain is due over the weekend. Northern California will probably be the most affected, but the entire state is set to get drenched.

In a forecast for Northern California, the National Weather Service said “impacts will include widespread flooding, roads washing out, hillside[s] collapsing, trees down [potentially full groves], widespread power outages, immediate disruption to commerce, and the worst of all, likely loss of human life. This is truly a brutal system that we are looking at and needs to be taken seriously.”

Here’s how to stay safe and prepare for the storms this week.

How to prepare before the rain starts

While the skies are still clear, it’s time to get ready so that you can hunker down before the atmospheric river hits. Basically, you want to prepare as if you’re going to be staying at home for a few days, with strong possibilities of flooding, power outages or both.

Sign up for alerts and check often for updates. Sign up to receive alerts about emergencies. For the city of Los Angeles, sign up at Notify L.A. If you’re elsewhere in L.A. County, you can find your municipality’s alert system sign-up here. For other places, search “emergency alerts (your city or county).”

To get the latest information, you can listen to the weather radio livestreams from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration at any time online.

To stay up to date in case of potential blackouts, sign up for alerts from your electricity provider and bookmark its website’s map of outages. In a lot of Southern California, the provider is going to be Southern California Edison, which has an outage map and lets you sign up for alerts by email, text and phone. In the city of Los Angeles, you can check the L.A. Department of Water and Power outage map and, if you have an account with the DWP, sign up for alerts on its website. Here’s the outage map for San Diego Gas & Electric and instructions on how to download the app with alerts. And here’s where to find the outage map for Pacific Gas & Electric, which serves much of the rest of California, and where to sign up for those alerts.

Make a plan. How will you communicate with family members in other parts of the city or state? Do you have their phone numbers written down somewhere in case your smartphone battery dies? Do you have supplies to care for pets, young children and people in your household with special medical needs? Where will you go if you need to evacuate?

Check your emergency kit. Is your emergency kit ready to go? Do you have food, water and flashlight batteries? Enough medication, pet food, formula and diapers to last a few days? Hard-soled shoes, work gloves, goggles, duct tape, a first aid kit and heavy garbage bags? What about a fire extinguisher, cash and a hand-crank weather radio? Here’s the full list of things that should be in your emergency kit.

Prepare as if the power might go out. Here is a complete list of what to do before, during and after a blackout. The short version: Charge your devices, including phones and laptops (and maybe a portable power bank, if you have one). Put a flashlight, pair of eyeglasses and pair of shoes by your bed. Fill up your car’s gas tank or charge its battery. Check the batteries in your smoke detector and carbon monoxide detector. Plan a couple of meals that won’t require you to open your fridge or freezer. Break out a puzzle, board game or craft project.

Get your house ready for potential floods. Areas with recent burn damage are most at risk of flooding, said Bryan La Sota, a coordinator for the county Emergency Management Department, but with the forecast for this storm, “everyone should be prepared.” Clear your gutters and make sure there’s no debris near your storm drains or other drainage areas on and around your property. Consider bringing in or tying down lawn furniture, grills and trash cans. You might even consider moving valuables from the ground floor to an upper story of your home.

What to do during the storm and potential flooding

Stay home. The safest place to be during a storm is in your home. Don’t make any trips beyond what’s absolutely necessary, said David Sweet, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

If you go out, bring supplies and exercise caution. East Coast drivers taking what should have been short trips wound up stranded in their cars for hours during the holiday snowstorms. If you venture out in your car, bring extra food, water, a phone charger and a first aid kit, along with enough clothing and blankets to stay warm.

Avoid flooded sidewalks and roadways. It’s hard to know how deep the water might be just by looking at it, and you can’t tell what the condition of the road is under the water. Just 6 inches of moving water can take down an adult or reach the bottom of a car and cause loss of control and stalling. Two feet of water can sweep a vehicle off the road, including an SUV or pickup truck. The weather service has a saying for what to do when you see a flooded street or road: Turn around, don’t drown.

Heat, light, charge and cook at home safely. Don’t use a grill indoors, don’t run a generator indoors, and if you use your gasoline-powered car to charge your phone or another device, make sure you have adequate ventilation. If you need lights, use flashlights or other battery-operated sources. Yes, this is peak candle season, but the fire risk isn’t worth it when emergency services are already stretched.

Heed evacuation orders. If you’re told to evacuate, go. Here’s what to pack for an evacuation.

If your house floods, go up, not out. If water starts to rise in your home before you can evacuate safely, get to higher ground — an upper floor or the roof, if necessary — and wait for emergency responders. Do not attempt to swim to safety.

What to do after the storm is over

Don’t touch downed power lines.

Check in with family and neighbors.

Assess damage. Check to make sure your home and yard are free of debris and water damage. Call 311 for nonemergency services.

Stay safe on the road. Even after the rain is over, streets could still be flooded or closed by downed trees and other debris. Leave extra time to reach your destination and heed all road closures.

Use caution before hitting the beach. There’s a possibility of coastal flooding with this storm system, Sweet said, and parking lots and walkways near the water may flood. Ocean water may also be contaminated with unsafe levels of bacteria after the storm.

Replace any items you used from your emergency kit. Make sure you’re ready for next time. We have a newsletter called Unshaken about how to get ready for an earthquake or other disaster in just a few easy steps.


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