9.5 Enhanced Impact Decision Support Services for Planning during the Historic 2015-16 El Nino Episode Across Southern California

Thursday, 26 January 2017: 4:30 PM
615 (Washington State Convention Center )
Alexander O. Tardy, NOAA/NWS, San Diego, CA

During the 2015-16 winter season, enormous outreach efforts were undertaken across far southern California to inform and educate the core partners and general public of the potential threats associated with El Niño.  The efforts began in August 2015 in the form of formal presentation briefings to partners of San Bernardino, San Diego, Orange and Riverside counties, and expanded through early 2016 to 80 meetings that reached approximately 6000 persons.  The largest meetings included expert panel discussions in a town hall format which allowed for public attendance that resulted in audiences of up to 300.  Social media productions reached thousands with one YouTube presentation having over 20,000 views and several recorded long briefings receiving thousands more views.  Each meeting provided hand-outs and resources from a variety of agencies including National Weather Service (NWS).  Most of the forums included a diverse collection of local, city, county, military, state, federal and at times elected officials.  The public was allowed to ask questions and these included El Niño science and impact inquires, and most often public works related concerns.  Many of the workshops included emergency volunteers who assist during natural disasters to support the emergency management community.  Several of the workshops were recorded and shared through Social Media or local programming including radio and TV media.  The combined public outreach and partner collaboration was unprecedented and some communities performed significant activities to mitigate the potential impacts of Pacific storms during a strong El Niño episode.

Most residents and officials of Southern California remember the high impacts flood and coastal erosion events which occurred the prior strong El Niño winters of 1982-83 and 1997-98.  The expectation was for above normal precipitation and the possibility of flooding, however the 2015-16 season only brought 40 to 70 percent of normal precipitation to far southern California.  In fact, it was the 5th consecutive October to April season with below normal precipitation resulting in the worse 5-year drought in modern history.  While significant precipitation and wind did cause high impact in January 2016, most of the region was spared any significant or widespread damage.  Despite the limited impact, the extensive collaboration on outreach and preparedness proved to be beneficial towards developing relationships and preparing the public for natural disasters.  Science has demonstrated that southern California can sustain unusual precipitation events, such as Atmospheric Rivers, and incur high impact during any given winter season regardless of the strength of El Niño .  The lessons learned, low cost successful forums, expansive reach into the communities and high level of interest during 2015-16 should prove to be effective efforts for future preparedness each year.

- Indicates paper has been withdrawn from meeting
- Indicates an Award Winner