Flooding in Whatcom County is an annual, moderate threat when it rains, according to Paul Gazdik, Bellingham’s emergency management coordinator.
The last big event here was in January 2009 when a warm rain on top of December snow led to floods, landslides and avalanches, creating a state of emergency that led Whatcom officials to request the federal government for about $8.5 million to repair damages.
With catastrophic flooding in Texas following Hurricane Harvey, Gazdik answered our questions about urban flooding.
What are the risks for flooding here?
The big one that floods every year is the Nooksack River, but there are smaller rivers that can potentially flood in the fall and spring.
What’s your biggest concern about urban flooding?
People trying to drive through standing water.
Summer rains in the Midwest allow people to play in the water and potentially fall into open manholes. The same principle applies to drivers. You don’t know what’s happening underneath the floodwaters. Roads can erode and overtaxed culverts can wash out.
We have a saying: Turn around, don’t drown. Don’t drive in floodwaters.
What are the major risks of flood damage for Bellingham?
Risks here are mainly localized. Bridges can erode. Flooded basements combined with ground saturation can lead to buckled foundations. If you’re continually pumping, that’s OK, but if your pump fails and water collects, then there are issues with pressure from the outside. Pumping needs to be done slowly after the rain stops.
What can people do to be prepared for a flood event?
Have a “go bag” near your door in case you need to evacuate. Floodwaters move quickly and quietly. Have a family communication plan. Your kids should know where to meet you if you’re away from home. Your “go bag” should have non-perishable food items, a change of clothes, your ID and comfort supplies in case you have to go to a shelter.
Clear your gutters and storm drains in the fall to avoid localized flooding.
Where can people get emergency information?
Whatcom County residents can go to whatcomready.org and click on the “public alert sign up here” button on the right. Follow the instructions to sign up for information on weather or localized events by text, email and text-to-voice for your phone.
A “flood watch” is declared when there is the potential for rivers to rise. Warnings are issued when rivers are rising and getting close to flood stage.