This winter may be a whopper: Here’s what you need to know

Meet La Niña. Her name means “Little girl.” But when she comes for a visit, she makes her presence known in a big way.

Meet La Niña. Her name means “Little girl.” But when she comes for a visit, she makes her presence known in a big way.

La Niña is a period of unusually cold ocean temperatures in the eastern Equatorial Pacific that result in above-average rainfall in the Pacific Northwest.

The National Weather Service says that during a La Niña period, which can last from one to three years, strong Pacific trade winds blow warm surface water westward, allowing cold water to rise to the surface. Cooler air disrupts jet streams; a northern jet stream loops into Alaska and Canada.

What’s that mean to us? A winter season that is colder and wetter than normal.

Lopez Island weather reporter Jack Giard, who is also a member of the Pacific Salmon Commission, said he’s read that wetter, colder, bigger snowstorms are likely in the region — possibly the most intense conditions since 1955.

An upside of La Niña: Giard said colder ocean temperatures are good for salmon and coincide with healthy salmon runs.

“The shift of the North Pacific current makes it really good for salmon. It’s one of the reasons this year we had the biggest sockeye run in 97 years,” he said.

But for humans, well, it’s time to prepare.

“Use common sense and be prepared to be on your own for a week,” advises Brendan Cowan, director of the Town of Friday Harbor and San Juan County Department of Emergency Management. “Take care of each other. Check on your neighbors. If we’re doing those things, we’re in pretty good shape.”

Cowan said forecasters believe the islands could get colder and wetter after the New Year. But islanders should always be prepared — La Niña or not. “You don’t need a La Niña winter to have a Noreaster,” he said.

Cowan said getting prepared for winter is not that difficult. Here are some lists of list of what you need to know.

Six Steps to Increase Your Preparedness

From the Department of Emergency Management.

• Maintain a minimum seven-day supply of food, fuel and water (as well as warm clothes, sleeping bags, etc). Don’t forget about medications.

• Have sufficient flashlights, backup source of lighting, and ample spare batteries on hand.

• Assemble a basic first aid kit (for home and cars). Include “N-95” masks for disease protection.

• Own a portable radio (tune to 1340AM KLKI) and a portable weather radio (NOAA) with “Specific Area Message Encoding” (SAME) capability. Have spare batteries for both. Listen for messages from local officials.

• Have a plan for contacting and meeting up with loved ones after a serious weather event. Agree on an out-of-state contact to be your central message point.

• Visit the Department of Emergency Management website,, for a wide array of preparedness materials and other resources. Call 378-9932. E-mail

Preparedness for Businesses and Non-Profits

From the Department of Emergency Management.

• Ensure that everyone who is part of your organization has taken steps to ensure they and their families can be on their own for seven days.

• Have a post-disaster meeting plan for your organization. After your families are safe, where do you meet up?

• Ensure that you’ve take steps to protect your organization. Have you backed up data? Have you quake-proofed your facility? Do you have documentation for how your organization functions? Is your insurance in order?

• Think about what sorts of new roles your organization might fill following a major weather event. Churches can run shelters, libraries can become message stations, animal shelters can take in animals in need, and groups of people who do trail maintenance can help with debris removal. Be imaginative, flexible, and be willing to help.

“The primary goal following a disaster is simple: to get the community back to normal as soon as possible,” the Department of Emergency Management website states. “Businesses, churches, volunteer groups, and non-profits become the driving force behind making this happen.”

• Establish ties now with other similar organizations to talk about roles. Coordination is the key following a disaster.

• Call Department of Emergency Management, 378-9932, to have someone come talk to your organization about preparedness or to answer your questions.

When power goes out

• Don’t call 911 to report power outages, which are considered non-emergency. Call OPALCO at 376-3599.

• Check for school cancellations or delays on or

Prepare your home

From the Town of Friday Harbor.

Before the cold hits:

• Insulate pipes in your home’s crawl spaces, garage, unfinished basement, and attic. These exposed pipes are most susceptible to freezing. Remember, the more insulation you use, the better protected your pipes will be.

• Disconnect garden hoses and insulate outdoor faucets with hose bibs. This reduces the chance of freezing in the short span of pipe just inside the house.

• Heat tape or thermostatically controlled heat cables can be used to wrap pipes. Be sure to use products approved only for the use intended (exterior or interior). Closely follow all manufacturers’ installation and operation instructions.

• Seal leaks that allow cold air inside near where pipes are located. Look for air leaks around electrical wiring, dryer vents, and pipes. Use caulk or insulation to keep the cold out and the heat in. With severe cold, even a tiny opening can let in enough cold air to cause a pipe to freeze.

When the temperature drops:

• A trickle of hot and cold water might be all it takes to keep your pipes from freezing. Let warm water drip overnight, preferably from a faucet on an outside wall.

• Open cabinet doors to allow heat to get to un-insulated pipes under sinks and appliances near exterior walls.

Before you go away:

• Set the thermostat in your house no lower than 55°F (12°C).

• Ask a friend or neighbor to check your house daily to make sure it’s warm enough to prevent freezing, or contact the Friday Harbor Water Department at 378-8353 to shut off the water meter. Then shut off hot water heaters at the fuse box and drain the water system.

• If you have a lawn irrigation system, shut off and drain all water from the system. Water left in the system could become frozen and break piping, fittings, valves, sprinklers, pumps, backflow devices, etc.

• If you have a backflow assembly above ground, insulate the cover and use rigid insulation and heat tape or thermostatically controlled heat cables to help prevent freezing and costly repairs. Fiberglass insulation prevents access to test cocks, check valves, and relief valve. Use rigid insulation instead.

• For more information, contact the Town of Friday Harbor Water Department, 378-8353.

Prepare your vehicle

From AAA Washington.

• Replace your windshield wipers. In the climate of the Northwest, motorists should replace their wiper blades every six months.

• Check your tire pressure. As the temperature drops, so will the pressure in your tires. This can make for unsafe conditions and reduces fuel efficiency.

• Prepare a winter driving kit: food, water, booster cables, first aid kit, flares or triangle warning devices, flashlight with fresh batteries, heavy gloves, ice scraper, small snow shovel and brush, traction mats, warm blanket, window washing solvent.

• Check the level of your engine oil. Top off if you’re low and have it changed based on the recommendation in your vehicle’s owner’s manual.

• Clean your battery terminals.

• Clean your windows and lights.

• Check your lights. Make sure none of your light bulbs have burned out, including your emergency and interior lights.

• Make sure your gas cap seals.

• Consider buying tire chains. If you don’t have all-season tires and will likely have to drive in the snow this year, it’s a good idea to purchase tire chains.

• Read your vehicle’s owner’s manual.