I lived in Los Angeles during two El Ninos. The current El Nino is bigger than both of those and is the biggest on record. El Ninos are really quite amazing. Storms stack up in the Pacific waiting to make land. There are at least four storms heading towards California now and the conveyor belt should send continual storms through March. The problem is that constant rain loosens hillsides, with the very real possibility of homes sliding off foundations, mud-flows, beach erosion, and of course, flooded streets. Recent fires in wooded areas means hillsides are barren. This increases the probability of mud flows.
Rain is good everywhere. However, to break the California drought, it needs to fall in the Sierras, because that snow and water is crucial for much of the state, as it flows to the Sacramento Delta then southward via canals. The Eastern Sierra has already gotten snow, with more coming this week.
In the meantime, people get ready.
“El Niño storms: it’s steady, not spectacular. But it’s relentless,” said Bill Patzert, climatologist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge. “It’s not 10 inches in 24 hours and nothing afterward. It’s a 1-inch storm, a 2-inch storm, followed by a 1-inch storm, followed by a 2-inch storm.
“As this goes on for many weeks, then you start to soak the hillsides — then you get more instability. And then, instead of having 6 inches of mud running down your street or off the hillside behind your house, then you can get serious mudflows — 2 to 3 feet in height.”