El Nino will cause high tides
An extreme El Niño could mean lots of rain, landslides and very high tides this winter. Photo: Justin Vandever, California Beach Blog, 2015

Update: El Niño is here and the rains have come to the Bay Area. The extant to which these rains will alleviate the drought, however, remains to be seen. Let's hope for more rain!

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Frequently Asked Questions about El Niño
The forecaster consensus remains nearly unchanged, with the expectation that this El Niño could rank among the top three strongest episodes as measured by the 3-month SST departures in the Niño 3.4 region going back to 1950."—The Climate Prediction Center at the National Weather Service, November 12, 2015

You’ve probably heard a “Godzilla” El Niño is coming to the Bay Area this winter, and you might know that past El Niños have prompted storm warnings and extreme San Francisco weather. But what else is there to know? We have the answers to your questions:

What is El Niño?
When is El 
Niño coming to Northern California?
Why are people calling this a “Godzilla” El Niño?
Will the rains from El Niño end California’s drought?
What should I be concerned about?
What information do I need?
How can I protect my home?
Where can I get up-to-date El Niño-related information? 

The last extreme El Niño to hit the Bay Area resulted in severe coastal erosion. Photo: Engineered Soil Repairs, 2015

What is El Niño?
A global climate pattern occurring every two to seven years, El Niño is characterized by a warming trend in the Pacific Ocean. While effects of El Niño can be felt around the world, Australia and parts of the western Pacific experience the most direct consequences, often in the form of heavier-than-usual rain.

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When is El Niño coming to Northern California?
According to Bay Nature, Northern California probably won’t begin experiencing El Niño-related weather until December. For better or worse, we may continue to experience El Niño effects as late as April 2016.

Why are people calling this a “Godzilla” El Niño?
The El Niño conditions this year closely resemble those of 1997-1998, which was the rainiest Bay Area winter of the 20th century. According to NASA climatologist Bill Patzert, the mass of warm water in the Pacific Ocean is currently bigger and deeper than it was at this point in 1997. Hence, climatologists warn that this year, the Bay Area may get the first extremely wet winter of the 21st century.

Will the rains from El Niño end California’s drought?
No, but they could provide some relief. El Niño rains tend to be warmer than average winter rains and land in Southern California rather than Northern California. Consequently, the rains could wash out to sea quickly instead of building up the snowpack. Moreover, it’s not clear what effect El Niño will have on the high ridge of pressure over the Pacific Ocean that has been keeping the rain away. Still, if conditions continue as currently expected, El Niño could provide what Patzert calls “a huge down payment on drought relief.”

What should I be concerned about?
In Northern California, extreme El Niños result in extreme rainfall. Flooding, landslides and coastal erosion are likely. Be aware that the dry summer may increase (rather than mitigate) the likelihood of flooding, as rain runs off earth packed hard by drought.

El Nino at high tide
The water level in this 2012 king tide at San Francisco's Embarcadero was 1.5 feet lower than the level during the 1983 El Niño. Photo: Justin Vandever, California Beach Blog, 2015

What information do I need?

  • Find out if your homeowners insurance covers flood damage. If it doesn’t (or if it doesn’t cover enough), consider purchasing additional coverage.
  • Find out how extreme rainfall might affect your home and neighborhood.

    o   FEMA provides flood prediction maps for download or online use.

o   Find out if you’re at risk for a landslide on or near your home with this Hazards map created by the Association of Bay Area Governments.

o   Talk to your local government officials to learn how your area fared in previous extreme El Niño years.

How can I protect my home?

  •  Have your roof inspected and make necessary repairs.
  • Clear your gutters and check your drains.
  • Make sure your sump pump is in good working order and consider installing a battery-powered backup.
  • If you live on a hillside and are at risk for a landslide, now is the time to:

o   Install a hillside drainage system.

o   Repair and replace compromised retaining walls.

o   Plant ground cover.

Where can I get up-to-date El Niño-related information?

For the most current El Niño conditions, data and expert analysis, visit the El Niño portal on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) website.

In addition to providing highly accurate weather forecasts, the National Weather Service (www.weather.gov) offers climate data, reports on water conditions and weather event warnings. Weather Underground is also a good source for detailed, accurate forecasts and weather pattern information. Popular websites like weather.com and accuweather.com provide summarized weather predictions supported by easy-to-digest weather-related content. 


As the effects of El Niño arrive in the Bay Area over the next few months, we’ll be updating this page. Don’t forget to check back!

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Frequently Asked Questions about El Nino

Find top rated Bay Area companies to help you prepare for El Niño
El Niño: Terms to Know
Make sure your trees are healthy and stable before the El Niño storms arrive in the Bay Area. Photo: American Ratings Corporation

El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO): A single climate pattern that encompasses the entire El Niño/La Niña cycle of oceanic warming and cooling.

El Niño: A warming of the ocean surface in the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean.
La Niña: A cooling of the ocean surface in the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA): The climate arm of the U.S. government, this scientific agency researches ENSO’s ongoing impact on the climate and offers detailed, ENSO-related data and web resources.

National Weather Service (NWS): An appendage of NOAA.
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA): This government agency’s primary purpose is to coordinate disaster relief in the United States. 
Will El nino end the drought? What kind of flooding should I expect?
Visit NASA's excellent El Niño pages to better understand the global impact of El Niño. Photo: American Ratings Corporation, 2015



From the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory


  • Ready.gov offers step-by-step preparation advice for every kind of natural disaster.
  • Seasonal climate forecasts from the International Research Institute for Climate and Society.
  • Bay on the Brink is a public information project funded by Bay Area organizations such as the Bay Area Council, the Santa Clara Valley Water District and Save the Bay.


How vulnerable is your home to flooding?

Enter your address below to find out if your home sits in a FEMA-designated flood zone. 

Powered by www.policymap.com, an online mapping tool and data warehouse.

If your home sits in a red or yellow zone, take extra steps now to protect against flooding caused by El Niño. 

Preventative Roof Maintenance
Fix your roof before El Nino Storms hit
When prioritizing maintenance for your home, one helpful strategy is to start at the top and work your way down. Photo: Trademark Roofing (2015)

Make sure your roof is in good condition as we go into this wet season. Read more...

What home maintenance should I perform now to get ready for winter?
Fix your roof before El Nino Storms hit
While the Bay Area isn’t subject to the extreme conditions found in other states, winter weather can nonetheless take a toll on local homes. Photo: Carmen Miranda - Alain Pinel Realtors (2015)

Completing a few simple tasks now will save you time, money and headaches later. Read more....