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California prepares for El Niño deluge

Big waves against pier

Roofers and tree trimmers in California have more work than they can handle. Municipalities are clearing storm drains, shoring up creeks. and doing everything possible to prepare for the coming El Niño deluge. Because when it rains in California, man, it pours. Small creeks in highly populated areas near mountains can easily flood, deluging homes and streets. Homes slide down steep hillsides, especially those in areas that have recently burned. Most areas really aren’t all that well prepared.

After four years of drought, creeks and rivers flowing through the Bay Area are more trickle than torrent. But weather scientists are recording water temperatures in the Pacific nearing the highest they’ve ever seen, suggesting El Niño will open an atmospheric fire hose in the jet stream this winter. That’s caused a rising tide of anxiety that has left even the highest-and-driest Californians on edge.

In the heart of tech-savvy Silicon Valley, the preposterously low-tech burlap bag filled with sand remains the most sophisticated weapon to fight flooding. “Short of actually building a big engineered solution,” JPA Executive Director Len Materman said, “sandbags are the tried-and-true solution.”

We lived in California during two El Niños, which pretty much shut things down for a while. The coming El Niño is bigger than those two.

The latest government El Nino forecast, issued by the National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center on Thursday morning, said that computer models unanimously favor a strong El Niño, and that there is a 95% chance that El Niño will continue through the winter — essential if California is to benefit from increased rainfall as the state experiences its fourth year of punishing drought.

Here in Vegas, a system of huge concrete flood basins designed to capture waters from flash floods should prevent flooding. The water is then released, purified, and sent to Lake Mead to be used by residents.

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