Wednesday, January 19, 2022
Jan. 19, 2022

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Heavy rains, rising river waters bring more flooding to saturated northwest Washington communities

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Heavy rainfall and gusts brought flooding and power outages to parts of northwest Washington, including communities still reeling from devastating floods two weeks ago.

The National Weather Service issued flood warnings in Whatcom and Skagit counties, as well as the Olympic Peninsula, all areas that recorded as much as 4.5 inches of rainfall between noon Saturday and noon Sunday. The weather service warned that heavy rainfall might force sharp rises on rivers and bring flooding.

Still recovering from major flooding earlier this month, the lowland Whatcom County towns of Sumas and Everson advised residents to voluntarily evacuate late Saturday.

Sumas, on the U.S.-Canada border, sounded the flood siren Sunday afternoon warning that the Nooksack River had overflowed it banks and spilled over Main Street in Everson. In a Facebook post, Sumas officials said they were concerned that the flooding could block roads going in and out of Sumas, which is about 8 miles north of Everson.

“As a reminder, there might only be a short amount of time before the roads going in and out of Sumas could be closed due to high water. After that point, it will be safer to shelter in place. Please make any necessary preparations now,” the city said on its Facebook page.

When the Nooksack River overflowed Sunday afternoon, it still remained lower than the flood levels recorded two weeks ago. But the area was already saturated from rains two weeks ago, said the National Weather Service.

The Red Cross set up an emergency shelter at the fairgrounds in the nearby Whatcom County town of Lynden, where about 30 people sought refuge Sunday, said Donda King, a Red Cross spokesperson at the shelter. With a steady stream of residents seeking shelter Sunday, the Red Cross expected the shelter at the Lynden fairgrounds to reach capacity, at about 35 people, by evening.

Two weeks ago, on the heels of the Nov. 14 storm, the Red Cross set up a shelter at a church in Hamilton, a town in central Skagit County along the Skagit River. Eight people stayed inside the church overnight Saturday and three people stayed in RVs on site, a population that didn’t increase with the weather events of this weekend, said Betsy Robertson, a Red Cross spokesperson.

Though the weather service initially predicted major flooding on the Skagit River by Sunday, it reached about 27 feet, just shy of the flood stage, by 3:30 p.m. Sunday. The Skagit County Department of Emergency Management predicted the Skagit River would crest at 30.19 feet, a moderate flood level, near Mount Vernon by Monday morning.

The river levels weren’t 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-lying areas of King and Snohomish counties, meanwhile, were under flood watch, with Seattle recording a quarter of an inch of rain between noon Saturday and noon Sunday, according to the National Weather Service.

A flood warning means flooding is imminent, while a watch is issued to offer time to prepare for flooding when it’s expected.

Standing water forced the closure of several roadways in Whatcom County at the tail end of a holiday weekend when the Washington State Department of Transportation expected congested roadways.

Officials closed the northbound Interstate 5 exit at Iowa Street in Bellingham because of flooding Sunday. It was part of the same stretch of highway shut down nearly two weeks ago after a mudslide event. City officials in Bellingham warned drivers to avoid unnecessary trips, as they blocked several local roads due to flooding.

“We want to remind everyone that — for your safety and the safety of others — never drive through flooded streets or streets that are marked closed with barricades,” said Chad Schulhauser, Bellingham’s assistant director of public works. “People should also avoid contact with floodwaters as they likely contain fuel, oil, sewage and other contaminants.”

November has brought historic rainfall levels to northwest Washington, the National Weather Service said. Bellingham recorded 11.64 inches of rain in November, through midnight Saturday, a record.

Flooding Sunday forced the closure of Highway 9 at the Vancouver Street-Canadian Border crossing. Officials also shut down the Mount Baker Highway at Boulder Creek Road, where floodwaters washed out the road and prevented drivers from getting in and out of the Glacier area in the North Fork Nooksack River Valley.

The Washington National Guard arrived in Everson late Saturday to fill and distribute sandbags to residents to prepare for flooding.

More than 1,600 homes were without power in the Puget Sound region Sunday, with the largest outage affecting Rockport in Skagit County, where 861 homes lost power because trees impacted power lines, according to Puget Sound Energy. Power had been restored to about 300 customers by Sunday evening, according to an update by Puget Sound Energy.

The National Weather Service predicted that the plume of moisture that streamed into the Pacific Northwest would weaken overnight Sunday, but heavy rain might continue through Tuesday. As of Sunday afternoon, the National Weather Service said the flood watch in King, Snohomish, Skagit and Whatcom counties would remain in effect through 10 a.m. Monday.

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