Heavy rains and rising river waters cause more flooding in saturated communities in northwest Washington
Heavy rains and gusts have caused flooding and power outages in parts of northwest Washington, including communities still reeling from the devastating flooding two weeks ago.
The National Weather Service has issued flood warnings in Whatcom and Skagit counties, as well as the Olympic Peninsula, all areas that recorded up to 4.5 inches of rain between Saturday noon and Sunday noon. The weather service has warned that heavy rains could cause rivers to flood heavily and cause flooding.
Still recovering from major flooding earlier this month, the towns of Sumas and Everson in Whatcom County advised residents to voluntarily evacuate on Saturday night.
Sumas, at the Canada-U.S. Border, sounded the flood siren on Sunday afternoon, warning that the Nooksack River had overflowed its banks and overflowed onto Main Street in Everson. In a Facebook post, Sumas officials said they fear flooding could block roads in and out of Sumas, which is about 8 miles north of Everson.
âAs a reminder, it may only take a short time before the roads into and out of Sumas are closed due to high water. After that point, it will be safer to shelter in place. Please make all the necessary preparations now, âthe city said on its Facebook page.
When the Nooksack River overflowed Sunday afternoon, it still remained below the flood levels recorded two weeks ago. But the area was already saturated with rains two weeks ago, the National Weather Service said.
The Red Cross has set up an emergency shelter at the fairgrounds in the nearby Whatcom County town of Lynden, where about 30 people sought refuge on Sunday, Red Cross spokesperson Donda King told the shelter. With a steady stream of residents seeking shelter on Sunday, the Red Cross expects the Lynden Exhibition Center refuge to reach capacity of around 35 by evening.
Two weeks ago, following the November 14 storm, the Red Cross set up shelter at a church in Hamilton, a town in central Skagit County, along the Skagit River. Eight people remained inside the church overnight on Saturday and three people stayed in campervans on site, a population that did not increase with the weather events over the weekend, said Betsy Robertson, spokesperson for the Red Cross.
Although the weather service initially forecast major flooding on the Skagit River by Sunday, it reached about 27 feet, just below flood level, at 3:30 p.m. Sunday. The Skagit County Emergency Management Department predicted that the Skagit River would peak at 30.19 feet, a moderate flood level, near Mount Vernon on Monday morning.
River levels are not expected to produce widespread flooding, but saturated soil increases the risk of landslides, Skagit County officials said in an emergency alert Sunday afternoon.
Some lower areas in King and Snohomish counties, meanwhile, were under flood watch, with Seattle recording a quarter of an inch of rain between Saturday noon and Sunday noon, according to the National Weather Service.
A flood warning means flooding is imminent, while a watch is issued to provide time to prepare for flooding when it is expected.
Stagnant water forced the closure of several roads in Whatcom County at the end of a vacation weekend when the Washington State Department of Transportation expected congested roads.
Authorities closed the north exit of Interstate 5 on Iowa Street in Bellingham due to flooding on Sunday. It was part of the same stretch of highway closed almost two weeks ago after a mudslide. Bellingham town officials have warned drivers to avoid unnecessary travel as they have blocked several local roads due to flooding.
“We want to remind everyone that – for your safety and the safety of others – never drive in flooded streets or marked streets closed with barricades,” said Chad Schulhauser, deputy director of public works at Bellingham. “People should also avoid contact with flood water as it likely contains fuel, oil, sewage and other contaminants.”
November brought historic precipitation levels to northwest Washington, the National Weather Service said. Bellingham recorded 11.64 inches of rain in November, through midnight Saturday, a record.
Sunday flooding forced the closure of Highway 9 at the Vancouver Street border crossing and the Canadian border. Authorities also closed the Mount Baker Expressway at Boulder Creek Road, where floodwaters washed the road away and prevented drivers from entering and exiting the Glacier region in the North Fork Nooksack River Valley.
The Washington National Guard arrived in Everson on Saturday evening to fill and distribute sandbags to residents to prepare for the flooding.
More than 1,600 homes were without power in the Puget Sound area on Sunday, with the biggest blackout affecting Rockport in Skagit County, where 861 homes were left without power because trees impacted power lines, according to Puget Sound Energy. Electricity had been restored to about 300 customers by Sunday evening, according to an update from Puget Sound Energy.
The National Weather Service has predicted that the moisture plume that has infiltrated the Pacific Northwest will weaken overnight Sunday, but heavy rains could continue until Tuesday. On Sunday afternoon, the National Weather Service said flood monitoring in King, Snohomish, Skagit and Whatcom counties would remain in effect until 10 a.m. Monday.
Seattle Times photographer Ken Lambert contributed to this report.