Winter Storms Are Coming. Are You Ready?

leaves in guttersWhen was the last time you checked your home’s gutters and downspouts to make sure that they are clear of leaves and debris? What about storm drains on or near your property? The heavy rains projected to soon pummel the Bay Area are a wake-up call for homeowners to be prepared for stronger storms coming in the months ahead.

There is no debate about the strength of the El Niño weather patterns this winter: There will be lots rain and flooding. But forewarned is forearmed, and the steps you take now will greatly improve your chances of weathering the storms high and dry.


  • About those gutters and downspouts: Clean them out and then do it again after the next heavy rain. Check to make sure they are tight against the roofline. Check storm drains periodically.
  • Consider a quick touch-up paint job if the exterior wood trim is cracked. Cracks can carry water into the wood and promote dry rot.
  • Invest in a generator and, if you have a basement or other below-grade spaces, a sump pump.
  • Check balconies and decks to make sure water flows away from the walls. And make sure your yard drains properly. Place three to four inches of mulch in flower beds and areas where water will drain or collect.
  • The ground may have become compacted during the drought and will repel water initially. Loosen soil by tilling in compost and covering with mulch.
  • Install rain barrels at downspouts to capture water for later use. Make sure you direct the overflow away from the house.
  • Turn off your automatic watering system.
  • Store emergency repair materials such as sandbags and plastic sheeting in a safe, dry place.


  • Make sure your car is running properly. Do the tires have enough tread to drive safely on rain-slick roads? Install new wiper blades. Check your car’s lights, battery, and brakes.
  • Never try to drive through a flood. It takes just 12 inches of flowing water to carry off a small car and 18 to 24 inches for larger vehicles. If you are in your car when the water begins to rise quickly, abandon it and move to higher ground.
  • Put together preparedness and disaster supply kits for your home and car, although hopefully you already have these. We live in earthquake country, after all.
  • Store family items and important documents on the highest level of your home. If you live in a single-floor home, put items on shelves, tables, or countertops. Secure important documents online or on a thumb drive.
  • Do not walk through flood areas; just six inches of water can sweep you away. Make sure your children know to always turn away from floodwaters.


The California Department of Water Resources is responsible for flood-safety preparations in the state and has an excellent website that explains the dangers we face and the resources to help us recover. Make it your first stop online.

When inclement weather approaches, check out the National Weather Service’s Bay Area forecast website for a summary of current conditions and forecasts, detailed maps, preparedness information, and useful links. And for an explanation of what El Niño is all about, visit the NOAA El Niño Portal page.

The American Red Cross has a free app for your mobile phone or tablet with preloaded information on what to do in the event of flooding and where to find help — especially helpful if cell towers are down and TV service is unavailable.

FEMA’s FloodSmart website is the official site of the National Flood Insurance Program and an excellent resource for information on flood dangers and recovery. One of the interactive tools on the page shows the cost of a flood to your home, inch by inch. Flooding of just six inches in a 2,000-square-foot home, for example, can cost nearly $40,000 — including more than $15,000 for damaged flooring and carpeting alone.

(Photo: Flickr/mtnbikrrrr)