What to Do if El Niño Storms Your Home


We know that when it comes to house emergencies, the best remedy is preparation. But sometimes even the most prepared homes still experience damage, especially in the case of unpredictable storms such as El Niño.

One of the things we have to watch out for in Southern California is a potential storm surge; this could affect many low-lying homes along beachfronts and canals.

While the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is keeping track of our sea-surface temperature anomalies, we still can’t be certain of exactly when or how strong the storms of El Niño: 2016! will be. We saw extensive flooding in the 1997-98 El Niño. We may make light of the hype, but in February of 1998, there was a series of storms that bombarded California, killing 17 people and causing close to $550 million in damage. Mudslides were a big culprit in these cases and the hilly coasts of Southern California are susceptible to both slides as well as ocean surges.

Some of the worst damage can come not from months of ran but from short deluges, so even though we haven’t seen the big storms yet doesn’t mean you shouldn’t prepare. The Weather Channel reports that this year could see a storm system as strong as the 1997-98 event.

But some of the damage may not even come from flooding or mudslides; sideways rain and torrential downpours can get under the flashing or weaken roof tiles or shingles, or sliding glass door seals may fail. Rain can take advantage of vulnerable spots in your home and cause damage you couldn’t prepare for. So here is a list of things to do to recover.

If you have serious flooding:

First, turn off the power to your home before you begin any assessment or cleanup.

Be safe: be insulated. Put on rubber gloves and boots if you will be standing in water inside your home.

Assess the damage; take stock (and photos of everything for future insurance claims: make a list and keep all receipts!).

Rescue any valuables you haven’t already stashed. If you have valuable artwork on the walls, remove to a safe location.

In Southern California, usually floodwaters don’t stand for a long time. As soon as possible (and it’s safe), remove any standing water with a pump if you can. Companies can come do this for you, or you can get your own. Again, make sure you wear protective gear, and keep children and pets away from the flooding, since water can be contaminated. Place the pump on the lowest spot of your floor.

Clean up debris right away. Be careful of what may have come into your home, including sharp pieces of metal, glass, or wood. Ocean or riverbed runoff can be particularly hazardous. If you have mud, shovel out as much as you can, then spray your walls with clean water. Afterward, check your air ducts and insulation for water, mud, or mold, all of which could be hazardous.

Have outlets checked by an electrician.

Remove all wet carpets and rugs and furniture from your home, and rent industrial fans to dry out the area.

Go to work on mold and mildew immediately. Disturbance to the roof or siding of your home might appear minor, but if left unresolved, major issues can result. If moisture gets in under roofing or behind siding, you may encounter decay, leaks and even widespread mold issues in your home.

What you do NOT want to do if you’ve had flooding:

Don’t turn on ceiling fixtures if your ceiling is wet, and make sure you stay out of the room if you see the ceiling is sagging.

Do not use your household appliances such as your TV or blender or fan.

Don’t leave any of your wet fabrics, rugs or towels, in place for too long.

Don’t leave any media such as magazines, newspapers, or books (things with print) on wet carpet or floors. These will stain or adhere.

Do NOT use your household vacuum cleaner to remove water!

For the next time:

If you experience damage, use this as an opportunity to fix the problems in your home before it can happen again, even if you think these storms are too rare to make a big financial investment. First, with any replacements you make, now is the time to replace with waterproof materials.

Note the locations of any leaks or any cracks and get those repaired. Some you can do yourself; major repairs will require the assistance of a contractor and building team.

It’s hard to know if this year will give us something as powerful and damaging as the El Niño of the 90s, so it’s best to be prepared for anything. If you live in a low-lying area near the beach or a riverbed, go to a fire station or your local hardware store to pick up your sandbags. The best selection is a polypropylene plastic mesh bag over burlap. Fill this halfway with sand, then fold over the top of the bag without tying it—this creates a better seal. Keep any other emergency repair materials, such as extra sandbags and heavy plastic sheeting or tarps, stored in a dry place. Also check your balcony and decks for slopes, making sure water flows away from your walls and into your drainage system. If you know your home is at risk, move your valuables to higher, safer ground, or store in waterproof bags or bins. And finally, keep in mind that storms often send pests such as ants (or even rats and snakes!) to higher, drier ground. If you know your home is prone to ant or other pest invasions, preemptively bring in an exterminator or set up traps or powders, but only in places where children or pets can’t get to them.

For additional tips, visit the site for the California Department of Water Resources for Flood Prepare California. At Murfey Construction, we’re happy to go over El Niño preparation with you, as well as any other needs for your home. Or if your home does suffer from damage after a storm and the repairs are more than you can handle on your own, please visit us at