On Tuesday, Nov. 24, Caltrans District 8 partnered with multiple public agencies to hold an El Niño preparation event in the Cajon Pass. Attending were Alex Tardy from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in San Diego and first responder representatives, including the California Highway Patrol, the U.S. Forest Service, Cal Fire, and the San Bernardino County Fire Department, Sheriff and Public Works Department.

Terri Kasinga, Caltrans District 8 public information officer, served as mistress of ceremonies.

The message from all was to prepare, be aware and be ready. Said Tardy, “It is not a matter of whether the El Niño is coming, it is when. The ocean temperatures in the Pacific are unusually warm, at levels we’ve never seen before. The jet stream will be driven south, meaning there will be a lot of precipitation. It should start anytime and run from December through March. This will be an extended winter. Preparation is very important.”

Caltrans District 8 Director John Bulinski noted, “Caltrans is taking the El Niño forecast seriously. Crews are committed to preparing and responding to incidents that adversely affect our roadways. Ultimately, we cannot predict how our environment will respond to the magnitude of the storms that are forecast, however, we are ready to respond.” Bulinski stated Caltrans is refreshing road striping, performing erosion control, increasing staffing and repositioning equipment in order to deal with major flooding and snowfalls. Bulinski urged drivers to plan ahead and check weather and road conditions before setting out on a trip. “Always carry chains in mountain areas,” he said. “While careful planning and evaluation are taking place across the region, the weather impact on the drought-stricken terrain cannot be predicted.”

San Bernardino County Fire Assistant Chief Don Trapp warned area residents that flooding each year causes more deaths than from any other severe weather hazard and that this year the levels of flooding and mudslides may be historic. He cautioned that many deaths result from drivers underestimating the force and strength of flowing water. “Heed signs that say turnaround,” said Trapp. “Heavy rainfall can cause normally dry washes and riverbeds to become raging torrents in a very short amount of time. Never cross a road that you can’t see due to it being covered by water.” He noted that 12 inches of rapidly moving water can move a small vehicle downstream and 18 to 24 inches can move a much larger vehicle.

Said Kasinga, “Check traffic conditions before you go and if you go to the mountains, go safely. And stay off private property if you want to play in the snow.”

A video of the conference may be viewed at www.youtube.com/user/caltrans8.