Opinion: How to survive El Niño like an Angeleno

Hugo Alonzo ducks under a tree that had fallen and blocked the sidewalk and part of Sherman Way in Van Nuys in January 2006.

Hugo Alonzo ducks under a tree that had fallen and blocked the sidewalk and part of Sherman Way in Van Nuys in January 2006.

(Stephen Osman / Los Angeles Times)

With the formal arrival of El Niño storms this week, city and state officials are sharing survival tips like crazy. And I’m not knocking them, but they are a bit obvious: clean out gutters, stock up on sandbags, don’t play in the L.A. River.

Having lived -- and commuted -- through half a dozen El Niños, including the mega-deluge of 1997-98, I have developed a set of ancillary tips to avoid less-discussed issues with rainy weather in SoCal.

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Avoid the fast lane, especially on the 101 through the Valley. That’s where water pools. Even if you don’t mind the experience of hydroplaning at 75 mph, you’ve still got the splashes from the other side to worry about. My windshield has been hit by water waves so huge that I couldn’t see anything for a few moments. (OK, I don’t always follow my own advice.) On surface streets, it’s the lane nearest the curb. Which leads to ....

Don’t stand near the curb on the street if cars are about to pass.

Don’t dawdle through the La Conchita area of Ventura. Just in case. The cliffs in that area have slid onto the freeway more than once, not to mention that poor small community. Even if its not raining, the saturated land could be just waiting to let loose. Avoid Pacific Coast Highway through Malibu for the same reason.

Don’t repipe your house until summer. You think, hey, it’s the plumber’s call if he wants to work outside in a rainstorm. I made this mistake during a minor El Niño, but it coincided with the worst storm of the season. The pipes from the house to the street kept getting unearthed as wave after wave of rain washed over, and I’d have to trudge out and shovel wet dirt back over them.

Wipe your dog’s ears out. If you do dog walks in the rain, and you will have to at some point during this storm series, your dog’s ears will get wet. If they are not properly dried, things -- smelly, nasty things -- may grow in there. Then you have to get sticky ear stuff from the vet, which she will immediately shake out all over the walls and furniture.

Turn on your headlights. C’mon. It’s like night out there, people, I can’t see your car through the downpour.

Stay away from the trees. The trees in Southern California are dangerous during and after heavy rain because the ground becomes too wet to hold them up. Be especially wary of big trees on hillsides in parks and open spaces. But even the kindly oak in your own backyard may be one more inch away from toppling on the Prius.

Bring a plastic bag with you on the bus to hold your wet umbrella. (This tip courtesy of a bus-riding colleague.) Or at work, or the cafe. Just a good rule of thumb.

Poor runoff design decisions make for bad neighbors. If you live on even a slight incline keep in mind that your decisions about where to place things -- such as a rain gutter downspout -- on your property can affect the property downhill.

Not only don’t litter, but also pick up trash when you see it. Discarded furniture gets all the attention when it comes to street flooding, but most of the crud clogging up the city’s storm drains is a foul stew of things such as accumulated leaves, Doritos bags, cigarette butts, plastic water bottles, etc.

Put the Uggs away. They will be soaked in a second and forever smell funky. Ditto for wool hats and scarves.

Follow me @marielgarzaLAT


FULL COVERAGE: Preparing for El Niño >>

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