Staying Safe Under El Niño Conditions

January 5, 2016

It's the most wonderful time of the year … unless mother nature damages your home or causes you to get into a car accident. Winter is a challenging time; the ice and snow in much of the country makes getting around more difficult. They can accumulate on roofs and trees and cause them to give way. Even in the warmer parts of the country, cold weather and torrential rains can cause poor driving conditions and water damage to homes.


Weather forecasters are predicting that the 2015-16 winter season will be dominated by El Niño - a phenomenon where Pacific Ocean waters along the equator warm up. The unusual increase in water temperatures has significant effects on North America's climate. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says we should expect cooler than average temperatures in the southern US and the reverse in the north. Weather in the south will also be wetter than normal, and California may see some relief from its persistent drought conditions.


However, despite these trends, individual locations may see winter conditions as harsh or more so than normal. Factors other than El Niño will continue to influence the weather, such as oscillations that send frigid air masses south from the Arctic and that contribute to heavy rains in the Pacific northwest.


As another winter approaches, drivers can avoid accidents by:


  • Slowing down. The roads are slippery, so accelerate, decelerate and drive more slowly than you would in July.
  • Keeping a greater distance between them and the cars in front of them.
  • Turning off the cruise control when conditions are slippery.
  • Installing winter tires and keeping them fully inflated.
  • Staying off the roads entirely during severe conditions.

Even the best of precautions will not prevent all accidents. To minimize the risk of injury, all vehicle occupants should wear seat belts. Winter can also be hard on homes. Frozen water pipes can cause extensive damage to floors, walls and belongings. Roofs overburdened with snow and ice can collapse. Built-up creosote inside chimneys can ignite. Trees in poor health can topple over, or their branches can break off. Prepare now by:


  • Insulating water pipes, especially those exposed to outdoor air.
  • Cleaning leaves and other debris from gutters so that melting snow can drain out. Installing mesh guards over gutters can help keep debris out.
  • Trimming trees and cutting off dead branches.
  • Getting the home's heating system serviced each year.
  • Having chimneys cleaned.

Once winter has arrived, homeowners should rake snow off of roofs, to the extent they can do so safely. When the temperatures get frigid, leave faucets dripping to prevent ice from forming inside pipes.


Winter weather can be a challenge. With the right precautions, it does not have to be the source of pain or damage.


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