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.
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.