Washington State girds for flooding

Major flooding expected with no end in sight for rain in drenched Pacific Northwest.

BY VICKI DESORMIER | VICKI DeSORMIER | November 12, 2008


Just two years after record floods washed through western Washington state, heavy rains pummeling the region threaten to raise the level of rivers in the area over their banks and into cities and towns along the way again.

The rains have been heavy for several days now. Meteorologists are not optimistic that there is an end in sight for the precipitation. While rain is no stranger to the Pacific Northwest, heavy rains of several inches a day are uncommon. When such rains come, rivers rise quickly and overflow their banks.

On Wednesday, the National Weather Service warned of flooding in some parts of Washington, east of the Cascades. Forecasters said storms throughout the day will bring heavy rain and winds to the region as well.

Low lying roads throughout the area, as well as pastures in valleys, are already under water. Many of the populated areas have not gone under water yet. Residents of those areas are not taking the potential for flooding at their homes for granted, however.

Cathy Deen of Mt. Vernon United Methodist Church said flooding is some distance away from their town, but they are keeping a close eye on the situation and making sure they have a plan in place in case parishioners or local residents are forced to evacuate.

"We're fine for now, but we've been there. We know what to expect. We're just keeping an eye on the situation," she said.

The flood warnings include the Skagit River reaching some residential areas around Mount Vernon and the Snohomish River overtopping levees near Snohomish.

Other rivers with warnings include the Satsop, Nooksack, Stillaguamish, Skykomish, Tolt, Snoqualmie, Cedar, Carbon, Puyallup and Deschutes.

The Cowlitz River in eastern Lewis County was also rising rapidly. Emergency officials are not waiting until the water tops the banks of the river.

"We're getting ready to open our emergency operations center, just in case," said Ross McDowell of the Lewis County office of Emergency Management.

McDowell said a minimal crew will staff the center for now and that as more people are needed, if the flooding begins to impact residents in the county, they will be called in to work.

"For now," he said, "the center will be open just to monitor and evaluate the situation."

The National Weather Service forecasts a flood level of 12 feet in Packwood, enough to qualify as a "major flood." During the record flood of November of 2006, which killed two people, the Cowlitz River crested at about 14 and a half feet in Packwood.

Two to four inches of rain are expected to fall on the western slopes of the Cascade Mountains on Wednesday, according to the National Weather Service. Meteorologists are predicting that the rainfall amounts will begin to slow overnight on Wednesday and into Thursday.

Jay Albrecht, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said the heavy rains this month come only a few weeks after storms left soils across the western part of the state saturated. He said that continued precipitation could soften the soils enough to cause mudslides.

"The National Weather Service has issued a warning that there is a risk of mudslides on the western side of the Cascades," he said.

In December of last year, flooding and mudslides caused severe damage in a dozen western Washington Counties. FEMA provided individual assistance in 10 of the counties and public assistance in the other two.

Officials said they believe the rains may be moving out of the area on Wednesday night, but meteorologists said a new system may move into the area this weekend. It is not likely the ground will be able to absorb the water that has already fallen before the new storms move into the area, so it is likely that the break in the weather will diminish the risk of flooding or mudslides.

At the First Presbyterian Church of Packwood, Lona Westby said the flood waters have not yet crested, but the American Red Cross representatives met with church officials to make sure everything was in order to set up a shelter "for when the flood comes,”which she said she expected to be by Thursday.

"We're anticipating that it will be above flood stage by tomorrow," she said Wednesday afternoon. "We're ready, though."


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