The floodwaters of El Nino in 1997 were devastating as the storms sent huge swaths of the Central Valley underwater, destroying crops and farmlands, sending homes underwater and, for awhile, leaving 115,000 Northern Californians out of their homes.

A huge mudslide on Highway 50 in the burn scar of the Cleveland Fire blocked the highway and it took a month to repair damage before the highway could be reopened.

A massive levee break sent the community of Olivehurst underwater in Yuba County.

On the Mokelumne River another levee blew out, inundating Deadhorse Island, as animals were abandoned along levee banks and houseboats smashed against a bridge that couldn't be opened in time after a marina was swept away.

But flood control experts argue this major El Nino event is different, and the Valley is better prepared.

"In '97, we were probably about three feet down," said Richard Marck, gesturing to the levee bank along the Sacramento River on Wednesday afternoon, as storm clouds gathered above.

Marck points out that the Sacramento area, still at highest risk of flooding of any urban area besides New Orleans, has seen changes in nearly two decades.

"Slurry walls have been put in, we've got a number of erosion repairs that were done," he said.

On Wednesday, crews nonetheless began patrolling levees along the American and Sacramento Rivers.

"We'll be looking for boils, sloughs, anything that looks like the levees compromised, see if the top road has shifted at all," Marck said. "Every once in awhile we get a year like this when we shift over to flood ops and we're looking for problems out here."

American River Flood Control District general manager Tim Kerr agrees.

"I haven't seen any predictions of that much rain or any type of rain event that might melt the snowpack," Kerr said.

This year, experts believe, El Nino is spacing things out, leaving flood managers a challenging, but not impossible job of balancing all the water.

"It's great to see that, hopefully, we'll be going into this spring and summer with the water we need here in California," Kerr said.