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Preparing for Extreme Weather and Long-Term Drought

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By Karen A. Lefkowitz

Are you ready for extreme weather? Last week was National Severe Weather Preparedness Week, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), a scientific agency within the U.S. Department of Commerce, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Here in Los Angeles, it was calm after a series of storms that brought much needed rain in the middle of a drought, but also flash floods, mudslides, power failures, debris flows, and high wind to California.

Storm preparedness starts with monitoring conditions and creating an emergency supply kit for the home and workplace. Check the forecast by following the National Weather Service on Facebook and Twitter, bookmark weather.gov, and invest in a weather alert radio. It is important to insure property and possessions, keep important records and documents in a safe, secure place and evacuate when necessary.

But what about longer term extreme weather like the drought we're still facing in California despite recent rain and snow?

Collective conservation efforts can save millions of gallons and make a difference during a drought. If everyone does a little, we all benefit. The first step is calculating your water footprint. Figure out how much water you really use with this calculator or download the Waterprint iPhone app (free on itunes.com).

Make adjustments at home such as installing a water-efficient clothes washer, water-saving shower heads, low-flow faucet aerators, and high-efficiency toilets. Insulate water pipes and check for leaks in pipes, hoses, faucets, and couplings. For the kitchen consider purchasing an Energy Star dishwasher, using the garbage disposal sparingly, and limiting water use for cooking and cleaning. Turn off the tap when scrubbing dishes, brushing teeth, and lathering up in the shower.

To save water outdoors choose an efficient irrigation system that adjusts watering based on weather, soil type, amount of shade, and plant type. Check your sprinkler system for leaks, overspray, and broken sprinkler heads, and repair promptly. Plant drought-resistant lawns, shrubs and plants, and put a layer of mulch around trees and other greenery to reduce evaporation and keep soil cool. Only water early in the morning or later in the evening. Set up a rain barrel. Use a broom instead of a hose to clean your porch, driveway, or sidewalk. To be extra water wise choose a water-conscious car wash, go meatless more often (lots of water is needed to raise livestock), and support forward-thinking companies committed to reducing their water usage.

We could be in for a long drought, according to Glen MacDonald, director of the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability. MacDonald investigates long-term patterns of water scarcity around the world in order to understand the past and predict future patterns. "Linking paleoclimate records and paleooceanographic records we can trace relationships over hundreds of years, see if they are strong and constant and then build predictive models," he said. "Using long-term data that extends back hundreds of years or more we can explain worst case scenarios, inform preparedness planning and improve climate resiliency."

MacDonald's studies show that droughts in the past have extended for very long periods and will likely do so in the future too. Be prepared.

Flickr photos by pluckytree and brainchildvn.

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