Freshmen Bella Mathisen and Heidi Johnson and sophomore Evann Rudek sprint to class to avoid the pouring rain on Nov. 9

Campus preps for El Niño rains; meteorologists predict it to be strongest season in 18 years 

You’ve probably heard the predictions of what some meteorologists are calling the worst (or second worst) El Niño ever. There is no doubt that California desperately needs water, but is Country Day ready for the deluge?

El Niño is a weather phenomenon caused by warming Pacific Ocean waters. It occurs (on average) every six to eight years, affecting the winter weather in various areas.

Some areas (like California and England), get increased precipitation and rainfall while some areas (like Australia) have very dry winters.

Mark Finan, the chief meteorologist of KCRA 3 News with over 20 years of experience in the Sacramento Valley’s weather, says that El Niño will likely not be the doomsday scenario some people think it will.

“El Niño can but doesn’t always give us a very wet winter,” Finan said.

“But based on how warm the ocean is right now, it looks like the last time we saw an El Niño of this strength was in (the winter of) ’97-98. Then the rain was spread out over many days, so any flooding was minimal. It was a very wet winter but not a damaging winter.”

Finan and other meteorologists are expecting above-average precipitation levels.

Finan emphasized that increased precipitation doesn’t necessarily mean flooding is certain.

“It all depends on the timing,” Finan said. “If one storm gives you an inch here, an inch a few days later over a long period of time, you’ll be fine. But if you get four inches in a few days you will get flooding.

“It’s not really always about how much rain, but how much and how fast.”

How can schools and homes in this possible flood zone be prepared?

“Be wary and pay attention about what is going on from one week to the next,” Finan said.

“Do what you usually do.”

So what does Country Day usually do?

Every year, the maintenance department tediously inspects and checks every area of the school, headmaster Stephen Repsher explained.

“(We) go through the entire campus and manually clean out every gutter and downspout,” Repsher said.

“We clean the leaves off of roofs; we clear out any debris that could get caught in drains. It’s an ongoing process to clean rain gutters over the next five weeks.

“We’ve been scrupulous about doing this every year.”

Jay Holman, head of the maintenance department, agreed.

“We prep every year like it’s going to be El Niño,” Holman said. “We never know what is going to hit us.

“We keep our area drains clean: clean off roads, clean out gutters. We’re doing that constantly.”

But since the middle and high-school quads have recently been redone, there was no need to upgrade or add drainage this past summer.

Instead, some major renovations were made to the L-shaped room in the middle school.

Dry rot was removed along the entire L-shaped building, wrapping around the music, art, and Breakthrough rooms, Holman said.

 “The whole back side of the art room, the side of the music room and all the way to the new Breakthrough office was repaired this summer to help keep water from penetrating to the inside of the building,” he said.

Both Holman and Repsher added that the school has improved its drainage systems, leaving far fewer pond-sized puddles on campus.

“Eight years ago, when I started (working) here,” Holman said, “the drainage system was so bad that these massive puddles would form. That got so big that ducks would go into them and swim around!”

Yet the ponds weren’t all so serene.

“Years ago,” Repsher said, “there used to be a significant pond in front of the MP room. It must have been 25 feet across and one foot deep.”

According to Holman, ponding can occur for several reasons, the most common being clogged drains caused by leaves and debris obstructing the drainage systems.

Of course, he pointed out, the large population of trees on campus causes upkeep to be a constant issue.

“That said,” Repsher said, “if the rain comes extremely fast and hard, it could overwhelm the city’s capacities to drain water from this neighborhood.”

This would lead to flooding and a backup.

That’s what happened a few years ago during an exceptionally rainy year, explained Repsher.

“A few years ago,” Repsher said, “the water backed up from Latham Drive and came back and shot up the storm drain in the visitors’ parking lot about two feet off the ground.”

In the event of mass flooding, there are precautions in place for any physical damage that occurs. Holman explained that there are some pumps on campus if water buildup became bad.

“If water does flood into a room,” Holman said, “it’s my responsibility to get in and extract water. We have technology to extract the water from carpets; we have special fans; we are capable of repairing any damage, whether it be dry wall getting wet and stained or carpet or tiles popping off.”

Furthermore, Holman said that there are multiple pumps on campus that can be used to pump away any excess water that begins to pool or flood.

Also, Holman gave his assurance that no matter what time of day or what day it is, they will be there to clean it up.

“My crew and I are on campus from seven in the morning until midnight,” Holman said. “If it’s bad, even if I’m at home, I’ll drive here and make sure that everything’s draining fine.”

Repsher also explained that in the event of flooding, there is an emergency alert system he can turn to. After Repsher made the executive decision to close school the following day, he would activate the emergency alert call system.

This would notify all the parents and teachers that school has been cancelled for inclement weather.

In case there were to be a flood, there are some areas that would be more affected than others.

“There is one problem area right outside the locker rooms,” Holman said. “Earlier, it had concrete stuck in the pipes that we think came from the newly constructed middle-school (buildings). We were able to hydrojet it out.”

“If we get a storm that makes a roof leak,” Holman said, “or if a drain clogs and causes damage, then we just work on repairing it.

“We’ll be fine. I’m not expecting any problems.

“The rain? We need it.”

That’s true for not just the school but the whole state of California.

—By Chardonnay Needler

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