Weather is a powerful force that can greatly improve business or destroy it. Often, weather is predictable in a way that allows us to work around its intricacies so that we can counteract its force and maintain normal operations. Every two to seven years, however, a phenomenon known as El Niño occurs that presents weather variances which flip ordinary weather patterns to unseasonable extremes.
This year, weather forecasters predict it to be one of the most powerful on record, causing a shift in what to expect. Here, we explain what El Niño is, why you should heed experts’ warnings, and ways you can prepare your employees for what’s to come.
El Niño—What Is It and Why Does It Matter?
El Niño is the result of warmer-than-normal sea surface temperatures of the central and equatorial Pacific Ocean. An increase of just 0.5 degree Celsius (0.9 degree Fahrenheit) sustained over five consecutive three month seasons indicates an El Niño event is present. Experts at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have predicted sea surface temperatures will near or exceed 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above normal for the upcoming 2015-16 winter season—well above the minimum temperature increase to qualify as El Niño.
Only two other events of this magnitude have occurred since 1950 when El Niño records were first logged: 1982-83 and 1997-98, the worst on record. That winter, over 23,000 lost lives and $45 billion in damage were the result of torrential rain and mudslides along the West Coast and in Central and South America, record-breaking droughts in Indonesia, and uncontrollable wildfires in Southeast Asia. The temperature increase that year was 2.3; our current predictions foresee similar, if not stronger, conditions.
What Is Expected to Happen?
We’ve already experienced some of the effects of El Niño with the frequency and size of larger named storms, but, according to National Geographic, the following situations are also likely to happen:
- Flooding and landslides in the Americas
- Drought in Southeast Asia and Australia
- Scrambled fisheries
- Disease outbreaks
In the continental United States specifically, wetter-than-normal conditions can be expected in the southern half of the US, whereas drier-than-average conditions can be expected in parts of the Pacific Northwest, the northern Rockies, and parts of the Great Lakes and Ohio Valley, according to NOAA. Temperatures for most of the West and the northern half of the US will be above average; however, the Southern Plains and the Southeast can expect below average temperatures.
For businesses, this means planning for unexpected or atypical conditions for your region and your supply chain. For instance, in areas accustomed to having snow, this season may bring warmer weather that causes heavy flooding. Flooding could halt or delay operations for you and your suppliers, which could drastically reduce customer sentiment and satisfaction. Recognizing this risk early can help you identify essential employees and other critical inputs required to maintain business operations despite unseasonable weather patterns.
How Can Your Business Prepare?
The following list is a general idea of what steps you should be taking to ensure your employees are prepared for extreme weather conditions this upcoming winter season, though your preparation largely depends on where your buildings are located. Companies who have locations in the southeastern US, for example, need to prepare for colder, wetter conditions this winter. If those locations do not have a winter weather plan in place, now is the time to walk through a tabletop exercise with the rest of leadership to devise a strategy. If you would like assistance with crafting this plan, contact us today.
- Identify likely risks to each of your locations (mudslides in California, snow and ice in New York, etc.).
- Develop plans for newly-identified risks and test accordingly.
- Review, test, and update any relevant existing plans (reduced workforce, winter weather, pandemic flu, etc.).
- Communicate and distribute new and existing policies to employees, contractors, vendors, and other business associates.
- Work with your vendors to ensure the continuity of your services should their services become unavailable.
- Establish an emergency communications plan and include channels for communicating business response actions to employees, vendors, and customers in a timely manner.
- Monitor local weather channels for guidance and be sure to have fully-stocked emergency kits at each location.
Although the conditions for this year’s El Niño are predicted to rival the strongest on record, there are no guarantees how the weather will shake out. Your best bet is to prepare for the expected and the unexpected, just to be sure. To help you get started, download the Winter Storms Checklist for tips on what to do before, during, and after a winter storm. For more ways Preparis can help your business build and maintain a culture of preparedness, visit www.preparis.com or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Marlia Fontaine-Weisse is the Content Manager for Preparis.