Every now and then, we'll get socked with a winter storm that brings thunder and lightning and dumps enough rain to raise the danger of flooding. Even hail isn't unheard of, and all that rain can bring mudslides like the one that hit the Pacific Coast Highway early this year.
You can stay safe from winter hazards with a little preparation, peppered with common sense. Here's how to prepare for the most common problems:
Pay attention to flood warnings. During severe rains, watch TV, listen to the radio, check online news sites or install a reliable weather app on your phone. All of these sources provide bulletins with the latest information and warnings.
It's important to know the distinction between a Flood Watch and a Flood Warning. When your area is under a flood watch, it means that flooding is a possibility. A Flood Warning is much more urgent, as it means that flooding is imminent and that you need to move to safer ground.
Don't try to drive on a flooded road.
The water might not look too deep, but the California Department of Water Resources warns that as little as six inches of water can pose a dangerous problem. At that level, the water reaches the bottom of your car. That can cause a stall and strand you in a hazardous area if the water rises.
Just two feet of water can raise your car, or even an SUV, up off the road. At that point, it's in danger of rolling and trapping you inside, under the water. If you see a flooded road, don't take a chance. Turn around and find another route.
Prepare your home for a flood.
If you're going to ride out a flood inside your house, make sure your sump pump is working and install a battery-operated backup in case of power loss. Contact your local fire station to see if it provides sandbags or knows of a spot where you can pick some up. Move valuables and important papers into a safe spot, and beware of electrical outlets, sockets and wires that could get submerged.
Have an emergency kit in your home.
Such kits are useful for winter hazards, and they're also good to have on hand for emergencies that pop up at other times in Southern California, like wildfires or earthquakes. The Red Cross has excellent suggestions on what to include in your kit in this PDF document, which also discusses other safety measures in case of disaster.
Know how to get to safety. Sometimes, staying in your house isn't safe. When major floods are coming, you don't have time to look up the best evacuation route. Know it ahead of time, and educate yourself on alternatives in case the main route is under water.
Storms aren't the only potential winter danger in Southern California. Back in late 2014, the area got hit with a double whammy. Storms that dumped flood-level rains also caused mudslides that buried 10 houses.
There isn't much you can do to protect your home from a mudslide. Pay attention to weather reports and respect mandatory evacuations. Your home and possessions might be damaged, but at least you and your family will be safe if you get out of danger's way. The late 2014 mudslides were so severe that they left rocks piled as high as some homes' roof lines in their wake.
Lightning isn't something you need to prepare for, but it poses a small but real danger. California had 32 lightning strike deaths between 1959 and 2013, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. That might not sound like a lot, but it's enough to rank the state at number 33 for lightning death in the nation.
If a winter storm has a lot of electrical activity in the sky, get inside your house. Water pipes conduct electricity, so don't use your bathtub or shower during the storm. If you still have a landline phone, don't use that either. Cordless phones and cell phones are fine to use during lightening storms, according to the National Weather Service.
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