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San Diego County Leaders, Emergency Officials Prepare For Strongest El Niño On Record

Lt. John Sandmeyer talks to emergency officials and county leaders at the Office of Emergency Services about the San Diego Fire Department's preparations for the coming El Niño, Oct. 13, 2015.
Susan Murphy
Lt. John Sandmeyer talks to emergency officials and county leaders at the Office of Emergency Services about the San Diego Fire Department's preparations for the coming El Niño, Oct. 13, 2015.

San Diego County Leaders, Emergency Officials Prepare For Strongest El Niño On Record
More than 100 San Diego County leaders and emergency officials were briefed Tuesday on the strengthening El Niño and its potential impacts of heavy rainfall, flooding and mudflows.

More than 100 San Diego County leaders and emergency officials were briefed Tuesday on the strengthening El Niño and its potential impacts of heavy rainfall, flooding and mudflows.

The developing El Niño is now strongest on record as water temperatures in the Equatorial Pacific Ocean are nearly 6 degrees Fahrenheit above average.

“And that is pretty much off the scale,” said Alex Tardy, who talked to the group about the latest forecast.

Tardy said the exceptionally warm ocean water already in place off San Diego will allow the atmosphere to hold more water vapor when storms roll in, leading to potentially heavier downpours and flooding.

“What we’re thinking is once El Niño engages with the atmosphere, once it brings the jet stream down from Oregon and then locks it into Southern California that that warm water will actually set the stage for even heavier rainfall rates along the coast,” Tardy said. “We’ve already seen it with some of the storms we’ve had this year.”

The biggest concern among emergency officials is a large amount of rainfall in a short period of time, or several days’ worth of steady rains that cause rivers and waterways to overflow.

“We’re particularly concerned about recent fire burn areas,” said Holly Crawford, director of the County Office of Emergency Services, where the meeting was held.

“About 22,000 acres burned in the May 2014 fires in San Diego County, so people who live in and around those recent burn areas — flooding is a real concern.”

Crawford said recent flooding in South Carolina should serve as a wake-up call.

“We’re not used to seeing a lot of rain, widespread, in a short amount of time here in San Diego County,” Crawford said. “We have to plan for the worst case scenario."

Crawford said plans are in place to alert the public of potential dangers before, during and after storms. She’s urging everyone to register their cell phone with the county’s mass notification system at readysandiego.org.

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