Winds pick up as twin storms roar toward Western Washington

A monster low-pressure system spun off Typhoon Songa is churning across the Pacific toward the Northwest, carrying heavy rain and powerful winds forecasted for Saturday.
A monster low-pressure system spun off Typhoon Songa is churning across the Pacific toward the Northwest, carrying heavy rain and powerful winds forecasted for Saturday.

A little more than 100 customers were without electricity in scattered locations around Whatcom County on Thursday morning, Oct. 13, as winds picked up overnight in advance of the first of two storms that could cause considerable wind and flood damage across Western Washington.

Fallen tree limbs were blamed for an outage in much of Sudden Valley about 4:30 a.m. Power was restored by 6:30 a.m. to all but 86 customers along Lake Whatcom Boulevard, according to the online PSE outage map. Another 27 customers were in the dark along Samish Way northeast of Lake Padden.

County road crews were placing hazard signs before dawn Thursday along streets prone to flooding, including Lake Whatcom Boulevard.

National Weather Service officials in Seattle issued a high-wind warning from 6 p.m. Thursday to 7 a.m. Friday, Oct. 14. A flood watch is in effect through 6 p.m. Friday. Up to three inches of rain could fall in the lowlands, causing urban flooding. Rain in the higher elevations could cause flooding on the Nooksack River. Flooding along the shore of inland waters, such as Birch Bay, is also possible. Sustained winds are forecast at 25-40 mph, with gusts up to 60 mph. High temperatures will be in the low 60s with overnight lows in the 50s for the storm, which is blowing in from the southeast.

But that’s just for the first of two successive storm systems due to hammer the Northwest through the weekend. The first storm, expected to hit overnight Thursday, is a typical fall event, officials said. But the second – a ferocious tempest due to hit Saturday – is much more ominous.

Seattle meteorologists and Whatcom County emergency-services managers were scouring weather models as a monster low-pressure system spun off a typhoon churns across the Pacific toward the Northwest, carrying heavy rain and powerful winds. Exactly where it will make landfall was still anyone’s guess early Thursday.

“This may come down to a day-of forecast,” said Johnny Burg at the National Weather Service in Seattle. He said the storm’s most likely path shows it making landfall on Vancouver Island, which would mean a severe storm for Whatcom County. But there’s a 1 in 3 chance the storm will blow headlong into Washington state – with catastrophic results.

“They know it’s going to be nasty, but they’re not sure where it’s going to be nasty,” said Paul Gazdik, city of Bellingham emergency manager. “The big thing is to have a battery-powered radio to get information, and to watch the forecasts, Facebook and Twitter,” he said.

John Gargett, deputy director of the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office Division of Emergency Management, echoed those sentiments. He advised residents to make normal storm preparations of having flashlights and radios with extra batteries, and stocking cupboards with bottled water and canned and dry food. Wednesday night at Fred Meyer on Lakeway Drive, shoppers were buying carts-full of storm-related merchandise. Sudden Valley residents reported similar storm preparation via social media Wednesday night and Thursday morning.

“We don’t want to hit the panic button every time there’s wind or the threat of rain, but fundamentally, we’ve got to give people an idea of what to expect,” Gargett said. “This particular series of storms have the potential to present some challenging situations.”

Bellingham police and fire officials, and their counterparts at the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office and fire districts countywide, are putting their firefighters and officers on notice and double-checking emergency equipment, but hadn’t issued emergency staffing orders.

“This is a rapidly evolving scenario,” said Bill Hewett, assistant chief of the Bellingham Fire Department. “It could be just another windy day.”

Meanwhile, the fire department has canceled open houses scheduled Saturday for all its stations. A few other weekend events have been canceled, so it might be wise to call ahead for events scheduled this weekend. Some businesses may be closed, too.

At Bellingham International Airport, aviation director Sunil Harman said flight operations are continuing normally and crews are making regular storm preparations, but that passengers should call ahead during inclement weather.

“We always suggest passengers to first contact their airline or airline website,” he said. “But we don’t expect any major problems with this storm.”

Robert Mittendorf: 360-756-2805, @BhamMitty

▪ Check current mountain pass conditions on the Washington State Department of Transportation website, wsdot.wa.gov/or call 511 on a mobile phone.

▪ Puget Sound Energy's Storm Resources https://pse.com/safety/GetPrepared/Pages/Storm.aspx

▪ National Weather Service Updates http://www.wrh.noaa.gov/sew/