El Niño is now Predicted with 95 Percent Certainty

Images of the Pacific Ocean generated this year show conditions similar to those during the last major El Niño weather event, in the winter of 1997-98.

From Washington to Malibu, government agencies are working hard to keep citizens safe during what could be one of the most powerful El Niño storms on record.

“There will be El Niño conditions this winter (current NOAA projections are 95 percent),” FEMA reported Wednesday.

This comes from a lengthy report by FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) released Wednesday, outlining “response and recovery operations before, during and after any impacts from what is expected to be an active winter due to a strong El Niño.”

The 56-page document is meant to serve as a guide for senior leaders, manager and operational teams — both governmental and private.

“Utilizing a ‘whole community’ approach to emergency management reinforces the fact that FEMA is only one part of our nation’s emergency management team,” said Bob Fenton, FEMA Region 9 Administrator, in a statement provided by FEMA spokespeople. “The exercise gives us an opportunity to learn from each other, and from the experts in the areas where solutions will come from.” FEMA Region 9 encompasses California as well as Arizona and Nevada. 

National, state and county organizations are all pitching in to prepare for the coming rain.

“The Los Angeles County Department of Public Works will be doing storm preparation roadwork on Las Virgenes Road and Malibu Cyn Road for two weeks, Dec. 7-18, daily from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.,” read an alert available on the City of Malibu website. “The work will include shoulder cleaning on Malibu Canyon Road from the Malibu city limits to Piuma Road. Intermittent lane closures will be required for crews to remove and haul debris from shoulders, and move equipment.”

According to spokespeople for LA Public Works, the work is both routine and exceptional.

“Every year we do preparation as if we’re in for a record amount of rainfall,” said Public Works spokesperson Mike Kaspar. “We prepare every year in that way, but certainly this year, with El Niño, we’re working in partnership with a number of different agencies and cities and seeing what specific things we can do to get ready for what we anticipate is a strong El Niño.”

Since October, the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) has been doing construction at Las Tunas State Beach, between Pena Road and Big Rock Drive, shoring up the roadway where an “active landslide” area threatens a portion of PCH. According to Caltrans spokesperson Patrick Chandler, this project is considered part of storm preparation.

Meanwhile, work began in November to reinforce the Malibu Pier, which suffered damage last August during Hurricane Marie. 

Beginning in January of next year, California State Parks officials plan to bring in replacement pilings for the 13 swept away by the storm, as well as replacements for an additional 26 pilings that had been damaged or lost in recent years. That work, the placement of 39 total pilings, is scheduled to take place between January and May 2016.

“As a ‘worst case scenario,’ NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) scientists suggested using the 1997-98 season El Niño (the strongest event on record) as the case on which our planning assumptions are built,” read the FEMA response plan. It then goes on to describe that historic storm. 

“The 1998 estimates indicate over $883 million in damages for California. The state also reported 17 storm-related deaths for the winter, and 40 counties were declared federal disaster areas.”