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January 12, 2016 /

GratiTuesday: A roof over our heads

The strong El Niño we were warned about is finally here. Although it is sunny today, last week the skies over Southern California opened up and began to pour rain. And, they say it is only just the beginning. After the long drought we’ve had, most of us are extremely grateful for the precipitation. I know we’d prefer gentler showers, but, unfortunately, we don’t get to choose.

The last time this area was hit by a record El Niño was the winter of 1997-1998. That was the winter that we didn’t have a roof.


We had purchased our house three years earlier with the intention of remodeling. The house had a great view but its small dark rooms, pink kitchen with pink appliances, and single bathroom (with pink tile!) were indicative of its 1950s pedigree. We wanted to open it up, enlarge some rooms, and add a second floor master suite. Because we were living in the home during construction and doing much of the work ourselves, the project took a bit longer than we initially anticipated… two years longer, to be exact.

When the El Niño storms hit Southern California late in 1997, the house was in the midst of demolition and construction. Our second story was framed out but there were no roofing materials over the rafters. When it started to storm, water poured down through every opening—and there were a lot of them—into the first floor below, soaking the original hardwood floors we were trying to protect.

We tried to channel the water as best we could away from the floors and other vulnerable areas. We stapled plastic tarps to the ceiling joists, hoping to divert the water into the trashcans and buckets we had positioned around our house. One day I stayed home from work to try and manage the situation, but, at one point, I had to give up. The rain was coming down in torrents, the wind was howling, and our tarps were rendered useless. After shedding some tears in frustration, I picked up my camera to document the mess.

Livingroom Livinroom2

Then, after several months of what seemed to be constant rain pounding our area, El Niño was finally over. We slowly dried out and proceeded with our remodel. Although it impacted our project, what happened to us pales in comparison to what others experienced. Roads were washed out, crops destroyed, businesses flooded, homes devastated by mudslides, and people lost their lives. One report indicated that El Niño’s global impact caused upwards of $45 billion in economic losses and claimed an estimated 23,000 lives.

Now, almost twenty years later, another El Niño is here and some say this one could be even stronger than 1997-1998. Fortunately, this time our house is buttoned up tight and we can observe the rain from the inside out – not from the outside in.

I am so grateful that we are ready for it this time. I hope others are too.



Leave a Comment
  1. Keith / Jan 12 2016 2:24 pm

    There is nothing like a water problem. I am happy you are locked up nice and dry.

    • / Jan 12 2016 4:30 pm

      Fortunately we had some rain this summer so we could make sure everything was OK. I actually am enjoying this unusual weather… as long as I stay warm and dry.

  2. Shelley / Jan 12 2016 2:40 pm

    wow! Our kitchen remodel was easy compared to what YOU went through! But, it certainly gave you perspective.

    • / Jan 12 2016 4:33 pm

      I had no idea what I was getting myself into – and how long it would take – when we first talked about buying a fixer. I don’t remember much talk about the last El Nino before we got started so it came as a complete surprise. This time, that’s all they’ve talked about.

  3. Kate Crimmins / Jan 12 2016 3:10 pm

    Hope you don’t have a repeat of that. Buttoned up tight is good.

    • / Jan 12 2016 4:36 pm

      Nope, roof on and all walls are in place. And, fortunately, we live high up (although not in a mudslide zone), so we won’t get the flooding that others are experiencing not too far away.

      • Kate Crimmins / Jan 13 2016 6:06 am

        Good. We just got our first snow. It’s two months later than usual and it was a dusting. The grass wasn’t even covered. I kinda like el nino!

  4. Denise Hammond / Jan 13 2016 3:52 am

    Here’s hoping you survive the weather. I’ve dealt with a flooded basement more than once. My next home will be on high ground or a high-rise condo.

    • / Jan 13 2016 3:03 pm

      This time around shouldn’t be an issue. Yikes, a flooded basement! Not only do you have the immediate problem, but then you have the fear of developing mold. A high-rise condo sounds good, except we are in earthquake country. I guess there’s always something!

  5. snakesinthegrass2014 / Jan 13 2016 1:39 pm

    Back when I used to live in Fresno, I smugly thought that the San Joaquin Valley was somehow immune from the natural disasters that might hit other areas of the state (i.e. earthquakes, strong ocean storms, etc). Of course, that was idiotic thinking. But during my time there from 2002-2013 nothing really tragic did happen meteorologically speaking. Then the drought became even worse after i moved away, and the area was affected pretty much like everywhere else in California. What I used to fear more than anything were the times I had to traverse the “Grapevine” on I-5 during big winter storms to get into LA and points south to see family. I felt like I was back in the Michigan of my youth and having to drive over icy, snowy roads.

    Those pictures of yours say everything about how strong and terrifying the El Nino storms can be. I’m glad you fixed up the house, and I wish you well for the duration of the season!

    • / Jan 13 2016 3:07 pm

      Oh, the Grapevine… I’ve been over that many times in all kinds of weather. The worst time was late at night. I couldn’t see very well and there were big rigs zooming past me. Yikes!

  6. Terri Webster Schrandt / Jan 13 2016 2:07 pm

    I’m reading this enjoying my last day in SD. We leave tomorrow back to Sac. It has been raining up there and very cold, too. I admire you doing the work yourselves and so glad to hear that everything is ship-shape! With our new room addition completed and some minor roof repairs done on the house, we are ready for El Nino!! Let it rain!

    • / Jan 13 2016 3:10 pm

      I’m so glad you finished your addition in plenty of time! I’m not sure when the next wave of storms are due here, but we are ready for them! Have a safe drive back to Sacto!

  7. Carol Ferenc / Jan 13 2016 2:22 pm

    What an ordeal you had! Doing remodeling is bad enough even in perfect weather, much less with a near-tsunami going on. Glad you’re snug as a bug this time.

    • / Jan 13 2016 3:16 pm

      I can’t believe that our floors survived! I enjoy inclement weather when I’m warm and dry but having the rain pouring in wasn’t fun at all. Snug is good!

  8. joannesisco / Jan 16 2016 1:29 pm

    How heartbreaking! I would have been a mess 😦
    Glad to hear you are bundled up and dry this time around.

    • / Jan 18 2016 9:44 pm

      It was an adventure… one that I never want to take again. When I look at pictures of the remodel project, I’m amazed we did as well as we did. Bundled up and dry is good!

      • joannesisco / Jan 19 2016 5:18 am

        It’s funny how we can look back on certain events in our lives and wonder how we managed to get through it with our sanity intact.

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