Caution: Climate Risk in California
Published December 17th, 2021 by Kyle Langan
Although Southern California is famous for its mild winters, it does face unique risks of flooding, wind damage, and rain. This risk can lead to landslide and or infiltration from the outside to the inside of buildings. Let’s first identify the root cause of why the upcoming winter season will be more severe than typical. Once understood, loss control recommendations can be made.
Good News and Bad News: Increased Snowpack
In August 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency warned of decreasing snowpack in California’s climate. This problem is one of the endless negative impacts of climate change.
As the climate warms, less precipitation falls as snow. As a result, more snow melts during the winter, which decreases snowpack — the amount of snow that accumulates over the winter. Since the 1950s, snowpack has declined in California.
However, 5 years later (December 2021), breaking news suggests a much-needed increase in snowpack for the Sierra Nevada is inbound.
A powerful storm system along the West Coast is dropping heavy snow in the mountains of the Sierra Nevada, and the Cascade Range. The storm systems are excellent news for the drought-plagued region and its struggling mountain snowpack; without it, a resulting decrease in the extent of alpine tundra ecosystems could threaten some species.
Mountain snow will be measured in feet with this storm, with more than five feet possible in the higher elevations of the Sierras. “Total snow accumulations will be tremendous,” the National Weather Service in Sacramento wrote in a forecast discussion, calling it “easily the biggest snowstorm so far this season.” 
Although this storm system is great for the environment, it will be met with increased risk for property owners in California. The storm will bring positive change for California’s climate, but is simultaneously disruptive because of its potential flooding and impacts on travel. Substantial wind and rain will enter lower elevations from the Pacific Northwest to Southern California. The lower elevations of central California have the greatest risk of flooding, which does present unique risk to dwellings in the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys.
Risk Management Techniques
Flood vents, floodplain management, and wind mitigation are all vital aspects of a risk control strategy for climate risk.
A flood vents are a useful guard against the buildup of excess moisture or water which are not healthy for structures to endure. They are permanent openings in walls that allow for the free passage of water. Flood Vents protect houses and buildings during floods by preventing hydrostatic pressure buildup that can destroy walls and foundations. This mitigation technique, allows floodwater to freely flow through an enclosure such as a crawlspace or garage.
Characteristics of effective flood vents:
- Free passage of water flows automatically in both directions without human intervention
- Minimum of two openings
- No higher than one foot above grade
Flood vents are useful for allowing for the automatic entry and exit of flood waters for an at-risk property. It is a “wet floodproofing” technique is required for residential buildings. Commercial buildings have the option to wet floodproof, which can be more cost-effective compared to dry floodproofing. Dry floodproofing includes measures that make a structure watertight below the level that needs flood protection to prevent floodwaters from entering. This type of floodproofing is often used to protect non-residential structures, water supplies, and sewage systems.
Mitigation + Floodplain Management:
Further, property owners should also transfer risk to an insurer.
- Purchase flood insurance
- Look into Flood Hazard Areas (SFHA)
- Look for Flood Insurance Route Maps (FIRM) near your area
Windstorm is normally a covered peril whether an organization purchases “named peril” or “all risks of loss” coverage. Alternative options include a supplemental parametric insurance policy that pays out pre-agreed funds based on wind speeds.
Wind and water can cause damage to exterior walls, roofing as well as glass breakage and interior water damage. In addition, damages to other insured property are at risk: docks, piers, landscaping, swimming pools, golf courses, tennis courts, outdoor restaurants/bars, etc. Damages to these areas drastically increased the amount of a potential claim. Therefore, insurance policies that cover these exposures are important to consider. This way, indemnity is available if losses are present. If you are not certain if your assets are protected, contact Conrey.
EPA – What climate change means for California. (2016, August). Retrieved December 17, 2021, from <https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2016-09/documents/climate-change-ca.pdf>
FAQs. SmartVent. (n.d.). Retrieved December 17, 2021, from <https://smartvent.com/resources/faq>
FEMA: Dry Floodproofing. Dry floodproofing. (n.d.). Retrieved December 17, 2021, from <https://emilms.fema.gov/IS321/HM0103040text.html>
Leonard, D. (2021, December 13). Storm blasting California with massive mountain snow and flooding rain. The Washington Post. Retrieved December 17, 2021, from <https://www.washingtonpost.com/weather/2021/12/13/california-rain-snow-atmospheric-river/>