Heavy-duty rain expected this weekend

Two storms forecast to bring downpours to Southwest Washington



No one has to use the adage “when it rains, it pours” in the company of Reginald Humphrey — he knows.

A veteran of the Vietnam War, Humphrey, 60, was fitted two weeks ago with a prosthesis at the Vancouver Veterans Affairs Medical Center after doctors twice amputated his right leg to prevent the spread of a gangrene infection.

On Friday, he learned his Chevrolet Suburban had been crushed by a fallen Douglas fir tree. The two events, of course, are not weighted equally, but both amounted to a stretch that made one of Humphrey’s friends exclaim, “What luck!”

As for that adage, area emergency officials don’t need to hear it, either.

They know Humphrey’s crushed Suburban, which is being stored on the property of Steve and Renee Williams, represents the kind of sleep-disrupting, freak accident made possible by heavy-duty storms, such as the record-breaking downpour expected to arrive early this afternoon.

“It just tipped over,” Renee Williams, 51, said of the Wednesday accident on her Brush Prairie property. “Its whole root system came out.”

Williams surmised a recent run of wet weather loosened the soil and the tree slipped out.

“Nothing you can do about it,” Humphrey said.

Meteorologists with the National Weather Service issued a flood watch alert beginning today through Monday morning. Two storm fronts are expected over the weekend, the first arriving midday and the second late Sunday.

“The first shot on Saturday is the one that’s concerning,” Ernie Schnabler, a duty officer with Clark Regional Emergency Services Agency, said after a Friday conference call with the weather service. “There’s potential for landslides in the mountain areas with all the water running. The total precipitation inland — that’s Clark County — will be somewhere between 2.5 inches and 3.5 inches. In 48 hours, that’s a lot of rain for us.”

Falling trees like the one that claimed Humphrey’s truck are made possible by inclement weather, confirmed Schnabler, who suspects there won’t be enough wind to cause other trees to tumble.

Creeks and streams, though, could spill over. Already-wet soils won’t absorb additional water, causing pooling near houses and businesses. Roadways beneath overpasses are susceptible to “ponding,” a designation that requires no explanation.

Emergency Management officials in Portland on Friday held a demonstration to prepare homes, businesses and neighborhoods for potential flooding. Schnabler advised homeowners to clear storm drains and gutters.

Simply, he said, “Be prepared.”

Of particular concern, he said, are cars shutting off in too-deep water or being forced off roads by sheets of water.

“We’re always concerned when there’s ankle-deep water on the roadway,” Schnabler said. “If you don’t have to drive, don’t get out on Saturday night.”

Tiffani Brown, a meteorologist with the weather service in Portland, said it’s unlikely Vancouver “would see any major flooding, just the kind we see in heavy rain.”

Conditions could be more extreme where rivers flow into the ocean or at the foot of the Cascades, Brown said. She described areas surrounding Oregon’s Tillamook River and the Cowlitz River as vulnerable.

Officials with the Gifford Pinchot National Forest urged drivers to think twice before traveling through the forest. Put another way: If your annual trudge into the forests in search of the perfect Christmas tree falls today, reschedule.

“If you plan to drive on forest roads … be prepared for hazardous conditions and road washouts,” spokesman Chris Strebig wrote in a press release.

Brown said 1.43 inches fell in the metro area Thursday, besting a 23-year-old record. She said she expected today’s rainfall to eclipse existing records, as well.

“For the Portland Airport, which you can kind of correlate (to Clark County), the record is 1.3 inches,” Brown said. “I think we’ll probably get that.”

Bob Albrecht: 360-735-4522 or bob.albrecht@columbian.com.