Santa Clarita prepares for El Niño

by Austin Westfall 0

By Austin Westfall

El Nino” gets tossed around a lot nowadays. But how many people actually know what it is and how it could potentially impact Southern California?

When asked what comes to mind when they hear “El Nino” most COC students simply said “a lot of rain.” Some students assume El Nino will be somewhat of a godsend for the drought-stricken state. But there is a lot more to it, so what exactly is El Nino?

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, El Nino is the warming of ocean temperatures in the tropical Pacific Ocean. The warmer water increases rainfall across the southern tier of the United States.

“This causes the jet stream to move tropical-type storms to Southern California,” said COC Geology Professor Vincent Devlahovich.

According to Devlahovich, a strong El Nino turns up about once every 20 years. Ocean temperatures are showing this one to be the second-strongest on record, after the 1997-1998 El Nino, which was the last major event.

The Santa Clarita Valley Signal reported unforgiving rain, heavy snow, and strong winds during the 97-98 winter season. The LA Times reported the extreme weather caused mudslides and floods, resulting in an estimated $550 million in damages for the state of California. The state even reported 17 storm-related deaths, but none in Santa Clarita.

El Nino was the cover story in this February 1998 issue of The Santa Clarita Valley Signal Newspaper.
El Nino was the cover story in this February 1998 issue of The Santa Clarita Valley Signal Newspaper.

The National Weather Service says Southern California is most likely in store for a wetter-than-average winter, so how is the City of Santa Clarita preparing for it?

“We’ve created a whole entire team specifically related to El Nino. It is comprised of multiple city divisions that have a role in preventing and minimizing the impacts of what El Nino can do,” said Jerrid McKenna, administrative analyst for Santa Clarita.

McKenna says the city begins it’s rain-prep by clearing debris from streets to prepare for stormy weather. Debris poses a strong risk of causing a “damn effect” in the city’s sewer drains. Additionally, flood signs are being installed to make residents aware of flood-prone areas.

The city also ensures parks, open spaces, and other city sites are all inspected regularly to guarantee they function properly.

These inspections give city officials a chance to foresee any problems that may arise. One major issue they’ve found is the fragility of the Cal Grove burn area.

On June 24, the Calgrove Fire burned hundreds of acres of brush off Calgrove Boulevard in Santa Clarita. Devlahovich warns that the areas burned in the fire are especially susceptible to mud flows during heavy rainfall because there is a lack of vegetation rooted in the soil.
Unfortunately, burn areas are not the only example of delicate soil in the valley.

McKenna expresses his concern of drought-stricken California soil because it is too dry to absorb any water that comes its way. “This El Nino is specific and kind of worrisome in some aspects because what typically would happen in the ground soaking up the water probably won’t happen,” he said.

Experts believe the landslide which destroyed Vasquez Canyon Road may have been triggered by severe rain a few months prior.
Experts believe the landslide which destroyed Vasquez Canyon Road may have been triggered by severe rain a few months prior. Photo by Austin Westfall.

This idea rang true earlier this year when heavy rain hit the Lake Hughes area, just north of Santa Clarita, resulting in severe floods which damaged property, shut down Interstate 5 and according to Devlahovich, may have slowly caused the landslide that destroyed Vasquez Canyon Road.

With recent events, and the 97-98 winter season still fresh on the cities mind, McKenna would like to remind residents to keep emergency supplies on hand, such as a flashlight, water, food, first-aid kit and a portable radio with extra batteries as local radio station KHTS AM 1220 will broadcast important information in the event of emergency.

Residents of Santa Clarita, and others in neighboring communities, especially those who live near burn areas, can sign up to receive emergency notifications via text message by texting SCEMERGENCY to 888777. These notifications will provide local residents will live updates and evacuation alerts.

So is there any good news in regards to El Nino? Harsh local water use restrictions and the abundance of brown grass everywhere serve as constant reminders that California is in the middle of a serious drought. Will all this rain put a significant dent in this drought, just like the COC students said?

“Unfortunately if this El Nino is a traditional one where the rain occurs only in the southern section, we have no way to hold water,” Devlahovich said. “Our aqueducts are all sourced from the Sierra Nevada and unless the El Nino puts a significant amount of snowpack in the Sierra then the aqueducts aren’t going to benefit from it and most of the rain is going to go right to the ocean.”

Even though El Nino will not save California from the drought, it could be the first steps in the right direction. Many residents have taken it upon themselves in recent rainy times to create do-it-yourself rainwater collection systems in order to stock up for dry times. Collected rain water can later be used for a garden or other purposes.

“This is our greatest opportunity to conserve,” McKenna states. “It’s a great opportunity to shut off the sprinklers and make sure that you’re saving as much water as you can.”

For more information about El Nino, as well as a comprehensive list of local facilities offering free sandbags, visit Santa Clarita’s preparation website.

“El Nino” is about to be tossed around a lot more—conditions could begin as soon as this month.

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