A warm, wet and windy storm that blew across Northwest Washington on Wednesday had officials warning about flooding, wind damage and avalanches, but Whatcom County appeared to escape without significant damage.
Closed for two days, Mt. Baker Ski Area is expected to open Thursday as freezing levels drop to 3,500 feet and fresh snow is expected.
Rain and gusty winds are forecast to continue into Thursday, with temperatures in the low 50s and south winds 15 to 25 mph.
Streets and roads across the county were strewn with branches and bits of evergreen trees Wednesday, but no major damage was reported. Barely a quarter of an inch of rain had fallen, as measured at Bellingham International Airport.
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Winds picked up and hard rain started as night fell Tuesday – following a blustery morning and balmy afternoon in which the temperature hit 57 degrees, nearly a record for the date.
Despite the wind’s ferocity, only a handful of small power outages were reported. Puget Sound Energy noted on its online outage map that fewer than 100 customers were affected in Whatcom County.
Heavier rain fell at higher elevations, forcing the Mt. Baker Ski Area to close Wednesday for a second straight day. Some 2.26 inches of rain were recorded in 24 hours by 9:12 a.m. Wednesday about 15 miles away at Marblemount, the nearest official weather station to the ski area.
An avalanche warning continued into its second day, as the National Weather Service warned that rain and snow will add “a significant load” to weak snow layers. The Northwest Avalanche Center said the avalanche danger in the North Cascades backcountry was high both above and below the treeline.
The rain has left trails at Galbraith Mountain mushy. Eric Brown, trail director for the Whatcom Mountain Bike Coalition, asks riders to stay off the trails until they dry out. “We very rarely do this, but we’d like to ask people to give the trails time to dry up,” he said. “They’re like sludge right now.”
Rain falling in the mountains was expected to cause rivers to rise quickly across Northwest Washington. Locally, the Nooksack River was of the most concern, as a flood watch extends to midnight Thursday.
A U.S. Geological Survey gauge near Glacier on the river’s north fork jumped from 4 feet early Tuesday to nearly 6.5 feet by midmorning Wednesday. No flood stage has been established for the river at Glacier. Discharge measurements jumped from less than 200 cubic feet per second Monday to nearly 1,700 cubic feet Wednesday.
Farther downriver at a USGS station in Ferndale, gauge height approached 13 feet Wednesday afternoon as the Nooksack rose rapidly overnight toward its flood stage of 19 feet. Gage height was 5 feet on Tuesday. Discharge was near 12,500 cubic feet per second Wednesday.
High tide for Thursday was forecast at 10 feet at 10:07 a.m. in Bellingham Bay, but the weather service said “deep low pressure over the area will produce tides higher than the tide tables,” as much as 2 feet above predictions.
No coastal damage was reported Wednesday.
Meteorologists said rain is expected to ease into showers across the lowlands from Thursday into Saturday, with highs in the upper 40s and lows in the high 30s.