Heavy rains put Whatcom County at risk for flooding, landslides

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDMarch 4, 2014 

With wet weather behind us and more rain ahead, Whatcom County is at an increased risk for landslides and flooding, according to the National Weather Service.

The National Weather Service issued a flood watch from Wednesday afternoon, March 5, through late Thursday night, as well as a warning about landslide risks. The threat for slides and floods is higher in the central and south Puget Sound area, and on the Olympic Peninsula.

"Generally speaking, the threat of flooding and landslides in Whatcom County and Skagit is lower than the rest of Western Washington, but that doesn't mean it can be ruled out," meteorologist Ted Buehner said. "It depends on how the weather shapes up over the next 48 hours."

Grounds soaked by melted snow and heavy rains can be unstable, and intense bursts of rainfall could cause slides. About an inch of rain was measured at Bellingham International Airport Sunday and Monday, with Sunday's 0.62 inch setting a record for that day.

Bellingham and Ferndale could get half an inch to an inch of rain through Thursday, with 2 to 4 inches closer to Mount Baker.

The wet weather caused closures on more than two dozen county roads Tuesday afternoon, as water and debris made driving unsafe. In many cases, downed branches and debris from weekend storms were blocking culverts, causing them to overflow onto the road, said Rob Ney, assistant superintendent for maintenance and operations for Whatcom County Public Works. Crews were out Tuesday clearing blockages so the culverts could drain.

"We don't have a capacity issue," Ney said. "We have a plugged culvert issue."

The weather should get drier on Friday and Saturday before the next weather system arrives with more rain.

"I call this current sequence this week kind of a parade of weather systems, but we'll have more of a break between them starting Friday," Buehner said.

The risk for landslides will continue for several days after the rain ends.

Steeper spots of Chuckanut Drive and Mount Baker Highway may be susceptible to slides.

"There are spots on Chuckanut Drive where the rocks fall quite often," said Tom Pearce, spokesman for the state Department of Transportation. "Then when you get out into the mountains, there are some avalanche chutes we keep an eye on."

AVALANCHE RISK HIGH

The risk of avalanche remained high Tuesday throughout the Washington Cascades and the Olympics, according to the Northwest Avalanche Center. The NWAC has five ratings for avalanche risk and “high” is the second highest.”

The NWAC released snow depth data on March 1. Stevens, Snoqualmie and White passes and Mission Ridge all have a snowpack exceeding 100 percent of normal. Mount Baker has a snowpack at 86 percent or normal.

- THE NEWS TRIBUNE, TACOMA

Reach Zoe Fraley at 360-756-2803 or zoe.fraley@bellinghamherald.com .

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