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  • Thanks for the Rain, Pineapple Express! (Got any more?)

    Finally. After an unexpectedly warm, dry February, the Pineapple Express has dumped enough rain and snow on northern California to bring reservoirs there up to average levels – the first time they’ve been that high since the drought began.

    Drought Monitor Released Thursday March 17, 2016 - Pineapple Express Drought Monitor - Released Thursday March 17, 2016

    This doesn’t mean the end of the state’s drought. The U.S. Drought Monitor’s latest report shows 55 percent of the state is still in extreme or exceptional drought. Groundwater is a major concern too. The state’s underground aquifers, which have been building their supply for hundreds or thousands of years, are being depleted far faster than they can be refurbished. Some of them have caved in and will never recover.

    The good news is the drought has been a wake-up call for the need to better manage water use.

    Here’s how some people are trying to save water.

    In California’s Central Valley, where a huge percentage of the food the U.S. eats is grown, declining aquifers have become a health hazard. Shallow municipal wells have gone dry as large agricultural companies draw down groundwater from deeper wells. This has left residents without water, or with polluted water.

    One problem is, when a lot of rain falls, the area doesn’t have enough surface storage, like reservoirs, to keep it, according to a story in the Christian Science Monitor. According to the story, George Goshgarian, an almond farmer in the San Joaquin Valley, is trying something new: flooding his almond orchards during the winter rainy season when his trees are dormant and don’t need the water.

    The idea is, the water will soak into the ground and hopefully some will trickle into the aquifer below. If he’s careful, the flooding shouldn’t hurt the trees because they are dormant. Then, during the drier growing season, the ground will have more moisture. And the aquifer below will have a bit more water.

    According to a study for the California Water Foundation that was cited in the story, groundwater in the southern San Joaquin is being depleted at a rate of 250,000 acre-feet per year on average. Using the rainy season’s runoff could reduce that amount between a third and a half, the study estimated.

    Homeowners and municipalities are also trying to figure out how to use rainwater runoff. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power last August presented a plan to capture more rainwater for the city.

    According to Andy Lipkis, president of Tree People, which advocates for sustainable urban water use, an inch of rain falling on Los Angeles represents 7.6 billion gallons of water. Half that runs off into the ocean, he said in a story in the Christian Science Monitor.

    The utility’s master plan suggests projects to capture water that range in size from major basins to individuals’ yards.

    Drip Irrigation - Pineapple ExpressThe yard of Carrie Wassenaar of North Hollywood, Calif., is a case study in how water catching works. As described in the Christian Science Monitor, her yard has drought-tolerant plants watered by a drip-irrigation system that uses rainwater. A depression in the yard allows water to pool and seep down to the aquifer below. The water comes from an above-ground cistern that collects rainfall from her roof.

    “You want to feel like you're at least trying to help with the solution instead of just contributing to the problem,” she said in the story.

    Ready.gov says the best way to prepare for a drought is to use less water beforehand. Here are some tips from ready.gov for saving water inside the home.

    Replace washers in dripping faucets and repair pipe leaks.

    “One drop per second wastes 2,700 gallons of water per year,” ready.gov said.

    Insulate water pipes. This will reduce heat loss, which means it’ll take less time to heat water from the tap.

    Install low-flow appliances, toilets, and shower heads. Some water districts will offer rebates to offset the cost.

    Instead of rinsing dishes and using the disposal, scrape dishes into the trash or compost.

    Lawns - Pineapple ExpressOutside, reduce the lawn and put in plants adapted to your climate. According to a study, lawns cover an estimated 50,000 square miles of the country. That makes lawns the biggest crop in America. And you can’t even eat them.

    Don’t water too much. Lawns only need about a half inch of water per week and less in the autumn and winter. If water’s running down the gutter, you’re using too much.

    Consider using grey water for outdoor watering. For information about installing a rain catching system, check out the web site for the American Rainwater Catchment Systems Association.

    Be aware of regulations when considering water-saving tools. California offered homeowners tax-free rebates of up to $2,000 to help homeowners pay for water-efficient yards. As of February, the state had spent $22 million in rebates. Unfortunately, the U.S. Internal Revenue Service is taxing those rebates as income.


    Drought Preparedness - Pineapple Express

  • El Niño vs The Arctic Oscillation: Opposing Weather Systems Bring Extreme Weather

    In the U.S., this year’s winter weather has been like a boxing match, with the southern El Niño sparring with the northern Arctic Oscillation and North Atlantic Oscillation for temperature and precipitation supremacy.

    May the best oscillation win?

    El Niño is a once-every-several-years warming of the eastern Pacific. A major El Niño event, like the one we’re experiencing now, commonly brings buckets of precipitation to the southwest, buckets of precipitation and colder weather to the southeast, and slightly warmer, drier weather to the northern Rockies and Midwest.

    In December and into early January, El Niño had commanded the match. Temperatures in the northeast reached the 60s and even 70s, smashing record highs. At the same time, tornadoes in the southeastern U.S. – a common El Niño phenomenon – killed two dozen people in four days. The severe storms continued into January in the southeast, as a tornado touched down in Florida on January 9.

    Shirtless - USA Today - Arctic Oscillation And then there was this guy... "What Arctic Oscillation?" - via USA Today

    Here’s where the match got interesting, though. The same storm system that brought the Florida tornado also brought extreme cold temperatures and blasting wind to the Midwest. A January 10 football playoff game in Minnesota was the third-coldest NFL game ever played, with a kickoff temperature of -6 degrees F. The storm left more than 120,000 people without power across several states.

    This extreme cold is more characteristic of a polar vortex, caused by the North Atlantic Oscillation and Arctic Oscillation. And it’ll probably continue through January.

    Arctic Oscillation El Niño is causing massive flooding in California, but won't do much in drought relief - via CBS News

    However, in California, El Niño is still the big hitter. The state is in a brief pause in a series of storms that could last for a few weeks. The storms are bringing lots of rain – which, alas, creates problems for awards ceremonies’ red carpet preliminaries – and causing floods in spots.

    Meteorologists expect even this El Niño won’t make much of a dent on the multi-year California drought. For starters, rainwater doesn’t stay put. Once the ground is saturated, water flows away, often in storm drains to the Pacific. In Orange County, in southern California, about half that water gets captured for later use. The rest ends up in the ocean.

    Rain Barrel - Arctic OscillationMany agencies in southern California are trying to collect more of that rainwater. On January 6, the State Water Resources Control Board approved a plan to spend $200 million for projects to capture more rain.

    In California and many other states, homeowners can capture rain for their own use. A 1,000-square-foot roof can collect 600 gallons from one inch of rain, according to the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension.

    It’s not that hard to make a small rain capture system; WikiHow has directions. Basically, it requires making a platform for a rain barrel (or barrels), taking a barrel and adding a spigot and overflow valve, attaching it to a rain gutter’s downspout and putting a filter in the downspout to catch larger stuff that would clog it. To use the rainwater for landscaping or gardening, set up a drip irrigation system and run a hose out to it from the barrel.

    Professional installers can also make a larger rain capture system.

    A few caveats. First, this system is gravity-powered, so if you want to water higher than your collection location, you’ll need a pump. Second, this water’s not suitable for drinking. It needs boiling and filtering to become potable. Third, not all states and municipalities allow rainwater collection, and some allow it only on a limited basis. This is especially true in the west, where water rights are paramount.



    Disaster_Blog_Banner Arctic Oscillation

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  • A Dozen Disasters to Remember 2015: A Year in Review

    The hottest year on record, 2015, showed the need to prepare for a wide variety of disasters. Here are a dozen, and one way to prepare for each.


    In January, a measles outbreak that started at Disneyland over the winter break spread to 14 states, infecting 117 people, according to USA Today.

    It started a national discussion about whether or not to vaccinate. It also served as a reminder: An epidemic can start anywhere and spread everywhere.

    How to prepare: Make sure to keep medicine on hand, says ready.gov. This includes nonprescription drugs like pain relievers, stomach settlers and cold medicines, as well as fluids with electrolytes and vitamins. If possible get enough prescription medication to ensure a continuous supply.


    8 Feet of Snow - via The Weather NetworkJanuary was almost over when an historic snowstorm clobbered the northeast. The storm, which began January 26, brought more than 30 inches of snow to at least 54 locations from Long Island, N.Y., to Maine, according to weather.com. It also brought blizzards and flooding. And it was only the beginning.

    Through mid-March, storm after storm after storm slammed New England. Boston basically shut down when too much snow clogged transportation arteries. The city eventually recorded a record 110.6 inches of snow for the season. One organization estimated Massachusetts alone lost $1 billion in wages and profits, and the school year stretched until the end of June.

    With the snow came near-record cold. At least six cities had their coldest February recorded. Hundreds of daily temperature records also fell. The cold was fatal for 28 people in seven states, according to NOAA's storm data reported in weather.com.

    How to prepare: Get snow removal equipment, says ready.gov. Get products to melt ice on walkways, sand and snow removal equipment. Andrew Thimmig, who lived in a suburb of Boston during the winter, said get more than one snow shovel – because if the snow’s heavy enough, one will break.


    In March, NOAA climatologists announced El Niño’s arrival. This recurring climate phenomenon, characterized by warmer-than-normal water off the equatorial coast of South America, strengthened by December into one of the three strongest on record.

    El Niño can change weather patterns all over the world. In the United States, it often brings especially rainy weather to the southwest and southeast, and warmer weather to the northern plains and northeast.

    How to prepare: Follow the forecasts. If you live in a state like California that tends to see flooding during an El Niño year, consider flood insurance.


    Kathmandu Earthquake 01 - ABCOn April 25, a magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck Nepal. The quake and its aftershocks damaged or destroyed almost 900,000 buildings in the capital of Kathmandu and the surrounding regions, according to one report. It also triggered an avalanche on Mt. Everest that killed 19 people. At least 2,100 people died.

    How to prepare: Look around your home. Are mirrors, pictures and heavy furniture secured to the wall? If not, look for kits to do so. Home furnishings store IKEA provides free mounting kits for its larger furniture.


    May brought heavy flooding to the plains and southeast. DeWitt, Neb., was evacuated and most of it flooded in a May 6-7 storm. A storm that brought massive flash floods over the Memorial Day weekend killed at least 23 people in three states. In total, at least 40 people died.

    How to prepare: Have a disaster kit ready to grab and go. Emergency Essentials sells several or build your own. Instructions for one are at ready.gov.


    The California drought was big news over the summer, after an April 1 snow survey found bare ground in the Sierra Nevada mountain range for the first time. Drought and heat also dominated the discussion in the northwest, which saw June and July temperatures more appropriate for Death Valley, Calif. On July 9, three towns in Washington state tied Death Valley’s 104-degree high, according to weather.com Ten days later, another Washington town hit 107 degrees. At least four deaths in Oregon were attributed to the heat.

    How to prepare: Know first aid. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control site has this list of symptoms for heat-related illnesses and directions for treating them.


    In July, the remnant of Hurricane Dolores in the Pacific brought “super historic” rainfall to southern California, according to weather.com. Interstate 10 closed when a bridge collapsed near Desert Center, Calif., and the San Diego Padres saw their first home rainout since 2006.

    How to prepare: Be ready when you travel. Keep your car’s gas tank at least half full in case you get stopped on the road or have to make a detour.


    Firefighter - ABC News via ABC News

    July and August saw more than 70 major wildfires in the (mostly) parched west, according to ABC News. The Valley Fire in Northern California burned more than 76,000 acres and destroyed 1,281 homes, according to weather.com. Six people died from fires in California and three more in Washington.

    How to prepare: Have vital information ready to go. A woman who saw the Wenatchee Fire in Washington said some people had just five minutes to evacuate. FEMA provides an Emergency Financial First Aid Kit to help identify records to keep safe. It’s available here.


    Blood Moon - Washington Post Blood Moon - via Washington Post

    It wasn’t a disaster, but it’s been considered a harbinger of one. On September 27, a supermoon eclipse briefly turned the moon red for much of the western hemisphere. The next time we’ll see such a phenomenon is 2033.

    How to prepare: Reminders to prepare occur daily, whenever there’s another natural disaster story in the news. Just start preparing. Pick up one thing you need and slowly build up your emergency prep. If you already have an emergency kit, take a half hour to see if it’s up to date. It doesn’t take much time or money if you prepare in small bits.


    Hurricane Patricia surprised everyone when it exploded from a tropical storm to a Category 5 hurricane October 22-23, according to weather.com. Equally surprising was its collapse shortly after landfall Mexico. No one died in the hurricane itself. However, its soggy aftermath added more rainfall to record flooding in the southeastern U.S. An October 10 storm had poured up to 15 inches on parts of South Carolina in 24 hours, causing widespread flooding and 19 deaths. Up to 160,000 homes may have been damaged.

    How to prepare: Know where to go in case you must evacuate. Know where local emergency shelters will be and have primary and alternate routes, suggests ready.gov. Never drive on a flooded road.


    A windstorm on November 17 killed three people and left more than a million without power in the Pacific Northwest. Spokane International Airport recorded record wind gusts of 71 miles per hour. The wind toppled trees and power poles and damaged buildings. Power was not entirely restored for 10 days.

    How to prepare: Keep electronic equipment charged. Emergency Essentials sells emergency chargers.


    This week, a winter storm, appropriately named Goliath by weather.com, brought 10 foot snowdrifts to New Mexico, tornadoes to Texas and massive flooding through the central and eastern U.S. So far, 43 people have died.

    How to prepare: Natural disasters can cause damage over a large area. Ready.gov recommends having emergency contact information for someone in another state in case of widespread damage in your area. Make sure family members know the out-of-state contact person’s information.


    And these were just the big headliners of the year. Of course, many things can transpire throughout the year. If we’ve learned anything from 2015, it’s that the unexpected can and most certainly will happen. We can’t predict everything, but we sure can be prepared for it!

    Have a safe, prepared 2016!


    That's our year in review! How did 2015 effect you?



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