Storms close Artist Point, swell Nooksack River

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDSeptember 30, 2013 

Crews closed the road to Artist Point for the season Monday, Sept. 30, after weekend storms dropped snow in the mountains and brought the Nooksack River near flood stage as rain fell heavily throughout Whatcom County.

Mount Baker had 6 inches of snowfall, prompting Washington State Department of Transportation crews to close the last three miles of Mount Baker Highway leading to Artist Point until next summer. The two miles below that section will continue to be closed from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. through Friday, Oct. 4, as crews remove about 100 dead or dying trees that are at risk of falling into the highway.

The highway closure - at the gate just above Mt. Baker Ski Area - was earlier than the past few years, but the stretch also opened earlier than normal, on July 1. The latest recorded closure was Oct. 26 in 2011, and the earliest was Sept. 27 in 2007.

The National Weather Service issued a winter storm warning Monday for the North Cascades and passes, predicting 5 to 10 inches of snow at higher elevations through 6 a.m. Tuesday.

Rain also was heavy in the lowlands. In one hour Monday afternoon, a third of an inch of rain fell in Bellingham.

The area forecast is windy and wet through Wednesday, with some sunshine possible as early as Thursday.

The Nooksack River near Nugents Corner was at 146.22 feet high early Sunday, Sept. 29, which is under the flood stage of 146.5 feet, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

"Even when the river hits flood stage, we have a little leeway before it becomes severe," said Frank Abart, director of Whatcom County Public Works. "Whenever we see a storm headed this way we have an emergency declaration prepared in advance, but it was not necessary this weekend."

Total rainfall during the weekend storms was 1.5 inches at Bellingham International Airport and 1.38 inches for the south side of town, according to Bellingham Weather, a Twitter account dedicated to tracking weather and storm conditions.

Whatcom County Public Works closed several roads due to water or debris on the roadway. Roads closed as of Monday afternoon included Ferndale Road south of Ulrich and north of Marine Drive, Marine Drive from Ferndale to Lummi Shore, Hemmi Road east of Hannegan, and Van Buren north of East Badger. The full list is at this Whatcom County webpage.

"At this point in time we seem to have avoided any major flooding," Abart said.

The county had several calls Saturday for downed trees, some of which hit power lines and closed roads for a short time, but Puget Sound Energy was able to fix those problems and quickly reopen the roads, Abart said.

PSE reported small outages in Whatcom County.

Sunday was pretty uneventful: The county took one call for a treetop in the roadway, and Bellingham Public Works responded to a few downed branches.

Reach Samantha Wohlfeil at 360-756-2803 or samantha.wohlfeil@bellinghamherald.com.

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