Even in the midst of the fourth year of drought, Sacramento County is preparing for the winter season. With the National Weather Service projecting a strong El Niño condition (warmer Pacific Ocean temperatures) through this winter and into early spring, there is a greater potential for a wetter than normal winter and the possibility of heavier storms in California. While an El Nino condition is no guarantee of heavier storms and major flooding, it has created a heightened awareness and greater emphasis on the County’s annual winter preparedness programs and activities.
“We are continuing to monitor the weather projections and to work with regional partners to ensure we are as prepared for winter storms as possible,” said County Executive Bradley J. Hudson. “In the meantime, we are performing our regular maintenance programs on all fronts so that departments are ready to respond to winter storms.”
The Sacramento County Office of Emergency Services is meeting with the State Department of Water Resources and other counties and local jurisdictions to discuss what the weather predictions may mean to local governments, what kinds of resources might be needed, and share preparation information and best practices.
“Since our reservoirs or so low, our biggest concern is local creeks and channels,” said Chief of Emergency Services Steve Cantelme. “Regardless of whether El Niño makes it to northern California, our office will continue to train as we do every year to respond to emergencies, as well as update our flood plans to be as prepared as possible.”
The Sacramento County Department of Water Resources provides services to customers in certain areas in Sacramento County. Every year, crews get ready for winter by conducting drainage maintenance activities to ensure the storm drain system is functioning properly, including:
Cleaning and repairing storm drain systems and concrete channels
Inspecting and clearing drain inlets, drainage pipe outfalls, and drainage trash racks
Investigating drainage issues received from residents
Constructing drainage improvement projects and clearing stream/rain gauge sites
Maintaining and upgrading the County’s stream and rain gauge system
Water Resources also conducts annual pre-winter flood preparedness activities, including outreach on flood preparedness, reviewing and updating response procedures,, and regularly monitoring weather conditions and forecasts.
“Flood preparedness is a year-round effort, not something that is only done right before winter,” said Michael Peterson, Director of Water Resources. “It starts in the spring and summer with our annual drainage maintenance activities, continues through fall as we conduct pre-winter flood preparedness and planning , and is sustained through winter and early spring as we continue to clear blockages, respond to customer concerns and monitor weather conditions with each coming storm.”
Peterson also added, “Heavy storms and flooding have occurred during both El Nino years and non-El Nino years, so Water Resources prepares each and every year with the potential for heavy rainfall in mind.”
The County's Department of Regional Parks continues with normal maintenance and upkeep throughout the 15,000 acres of the County’s open space to be as fully prepared as possible for winter storms. “Every year we evaluate our facilities and remove hazardous tree limbs and other vegetation in anticipation of winter weather,” said Director Jeff Leatherman. “We work continually throughout the year to ensure our parks are safe for all our visitors to enjoy.”
Sacramento County Department of Transportation (SACDOT) crews are in the field every day performing landscape maintenance, roadside ditch cleaning, culvert replacement, street sweeping to remove leaves that can block storm drains, and roadway repairs. Before the winter sets in a “Pothole Sweeps Week” is implemented for the entire unincorporated street system to get roads ready for inclement weather. SACDOT crews also pull debris off of and out from under bridges, and completes erosion control projects to protect infrastructure. When winter weather hits, crews are available 24/7 for emergency response to clear roadways, remove fallen trees, repair streetlights, fix traffic signal malfunctions and keep traffic moving safely. Flooded roads are monitored and closed when necessary. When roads are flooded, they are posted to the SACDOT website to allow the public to check commute routes for problem areas.
How Residents can Prepare for the Winter Season
Make an Emergency Kit
Personalize the kit for your family’s particular needs. Check it every six months to be sure it is up-to-date. At a minimum the kit should contain:
Water: one gallon per person, per day (3-day supply for evacuation, 2-week supply for home)
Food: non-perishable, easy-to-prepare items (3-day supply for evacuation, 2-week supply for home)
Battery-powered or hand-crank radio (NOAA weather radio, if possible) and extra batteries.
First Aid Kit
Medications (minimum 7-day supply) and medical supplies (hearing aids with extra batteries, glasses, contact lenses, syringes, etc.)
Copies of personal documents (medication list and pertinent medical information, proof of address, deed/lease to home, passports, birth certificates, insurance policies)—store in air-tight bag
Sanitation and personal hygiene items
Cell phone with chargers
Family and emergency contact information
Map(s) of the area
Have flood fighting materials on-hand: sandbags, plywood, plastic sheeting, etc.
Prepare a Communication Plan
Emergencies can happen anytime, and you and your family may not be together when one occurs. Make plans now so you will know how to contact each other in any situation.
Make sure each family member carries a cell phone or coins or a phone card so they can make a call.
Give each person a contact card with names and phone numbers of other family members. The list should also include the out-of-town contact information.
Include a copy of your contact information in your family’s emergency kit.
Neighbor Helping Neighbor: Establish a Neighborhood Plan
Discuss the steps to take while waiting for help to arrive.
Coordinate multiple evacuation routes out of your neighborhood.
In case of a flood, know where nearest high ground is.
Determine equipment or supplies can you share in case of emergency (e.g. temporary shelter, power generator, transportation, communication devices, first aid).
Reveal your skills. Find out who among you has any medical and/or technical skills that may come in handy in an emergency.
Assist those in need. Find out who has children, disabled or elderly, and pets in their home.
Decide who will check on special needs neighbors in advance.
Know How to Keep Your Pet Safe
Make sure your pet has identification, such as an ID tag or microchip.
Locate a shelter for you and your pet. Pets are not allowed in public shelters, so consider alternatives such as homes of family and friends, hotels and motels that allow pets, or kennels and veterinary hospitals.
Have a crate or pet carrier available. This will also prevent your pet from running away in case of panic.
Include pet items when preparing your emergency kit.
Winterize Your Home
Winterize your house, barn, shed or any other structure that may provide shelter for your family, neighbors, livestock or equipment.
Clear rain gutters; repair roof leaks and cut away tree branches that could fall on a house or other structure during a storm.
Maintain heating equipment and chimneys by having them cleaned and inspected every year.
Insulate pipes with insulation or newspapers and plastic and allow faucets to drip a little during cold weather to avoid freezing. Running water, even at a trickle, helps prevent pipes from freezing.
All fuel-burning equipment should be vented to the outside and kept clear.
Keep fire extinguishers on hand, and make sure everyone in your house knows how to use them. Learn how to shut off water valves (in case a pipe bursts).
Insulate your home by installing storm windows or covering windows with plastic from the inside to keep cold air out.
If you are prone to flooding, have flood-fighting supplies, such as sandbags, on hand before the storm season begins.
Winterize Your Vehicle. Check or have a mechanic check the following items on your car:
- Ensure antifreeze levels are sufficient to avoid freezing.
- Check battery and ignition system – both should be in top condition and battery terminals should be clean.
- Check brakes for wear and fluid levels.
- Ensure exhaust system isn’t leaking.
- Replace fuel and air filters and keep water out of the system by using additives and maintaining a full tank of gas. A full tank will keep the fuel line from freezing.
- Make sure heater and defroster work properly.
- Check lights and flashing hazard lights.
- Check oil for level and weight. Heavier oils congeal more at low temperatures and do not lubricate as well.
- Ensure windshield wiper equipment is working properly.
- Install good winter tires
- Implement your disaster preparedness plan.
- Monitor local weather forecasts.
- If you live near a creek or stream, monitor the County’s stream level ALERT System.
- Sacramento County Rainfall and Stream Level Information System (ALERT) consist of 50 gauging stations throughout the County that provide 15 minute updates during storm events.
- Be prepared to evacuate to higher ground if ordered to do so by the authorities.
- Adhere to any emergency orders of authorities.
- Do not touch any electrical appliances that are wet or standing in water.
- Avoid walking or driving through flood waters.
After the Flood
- If food or medicine has come in contact with flood waters, throw it out.
- Stay out of buildings if flood waters remain around the building.
- When entering buildings after a flood use extreme caution.
- Wear sturdy shoes and use battery-powered lanterns or flashlights when examining buildings.
- Examine walls, floors, doors and windows to make sure that the building is not in danger of collapse.
- Watch out for animals, like snakes, that may have come into your home with flood waters. Take pictures of the damage - both of the house and its contents for insurance claims.
- Look for:
- Fire hazards
- Broken or leaking gas lines
- Flooded electrical circuits
- Submerged furnaces or electrical appliances
- Flammable or explosive materials coming from upstream
- Know how to shut off your utilities if necessary