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El Niño winter forecast prompts planning

This map shows predicted snow and rainfall over the 2015-16 winter season. Nearly all of Arizona is expected to see more precipitation due to the El Niño effect.<br /><br /><!-- 1upcrlf2 -->Courtesy NOAA

This map shows predicted snow and rainfall over the 2015-16 winter season. Nearly all of Arizona is expected to see more precipitation due to the El Niño effect.<br /><br /><!-- 1upcrlf2 -->Courtesy NOAA

SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Taking no chances with a winter season predicted to be more wintry than usual, the Federal Emergency Management Agency on Wednesday, Dec. 9 released its Severe El Niño Disaster Response plan.

"There aren't many types of disasters capable of impacting all Arizonans, but a strong El Niño could cause flooding, evacuations and power outages anywhere (and everywhere) in the state," Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs Deputy Director Wendy Smith-Reeve said. "It takes a team effort to plan for, respond to and recover from the kinds of widespread consequences being talked about, which is why we're invested in the education and training of and outreach to the whole community."

The report focuses primarily on California, however, data for Arizona is included. It shows that, if anything, El Niño weather patterns are unpredictable. In the 1997-97 season, the strongest El Niño of the century, precipitation for Flagstaff was just 99 percent of normal. However, in 1982-83, the second-strongest, it was a whopping 181 percent of normal.

"Historically, strong El Niño episodes have featured an increased frequency of occurrence of above-normal precipitation over the state from December-March," the report said.

One hazard the 66-page report mentions is that, after snow falls from the predicted storms, "the state may also face flood risks from rapid snow melt in mountainous areas."

The document outlines how agencies on all levels can coordinate their responses to severe weather's effects.

"Unlike an earthquake or hurricane, flooding impacts may occur over several days and evolve out of and into contiguous jurisdictions," the report said. "For example, water may be receding in an area that is just beginning to flood in another area. Federal response may be in various stages depending on the impacted jurisdiction's physical location."

County Emergency Management spokeswoman Marcie Slay said her agency has plans in place: "One, out of the many preparedness steps the county has taken, has been the purchase of an additional 60,000 sandbags," she said. "The County Emergency Management Office as well as Public Works has been working closely with fire agencies, law enforcement, and Forest Service to place sandbags in convenient locations for residents in the county."

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