Gusty winds and driving rain pummeled Whatcom County with the first strong storm of the rainy season Wednesday, but it did little serious damage.
After a calm early morning, winds began increasing about 9 a.m. as recorded at Bellingham International Airport. Sustained winds were 15 mph with gusts to 25 mph at 8:53 a.m. By 11:53 a.m., winds were blowing at a constant 28 mph with the highest gust at 46 mph.
Highest gust of the day measured at the airport at 2:01 p.m. was 53 mph.
But only about a half-inch of rain had fallen by 2 p.m. at the airport, despite predictions of heavier rainfall. Father east toward Kendall and Maple Falls, trained citizen observers with the CoCoRaHS Network measured about a half-inch of rain by 7 a.m. Wednesday.
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A flood watch for the Nooksack River at Ferndale was added to high wind and gale warnings Wednesday in advance of the storm, which was heading toward Western Washington from the southwest.
It was blasting across the Olympic Range with fierce winds and heavy rain, but the mountains stole some of its bluster, said meteorologist Ni Cushmeer at the National Weather Service in Seattle. Cushmeer said the worst of the storm hit Bellingham at midday, with another nasty punch due in early evening.
“You’ll probably see another burst of stronger wind from the south and that’ll be it. It’ll drop off pretty quickly,” she said.
Wednesday’s storm had been expected to be much stronger than Tuesday’s morning bluster, which dumped a half-inch of rain and caused scattered brief power outages around Whatcom County but also did little serious damage.
More of the same was reported Wednesday.
By 2 p.m. about 1,400 homes and businesses were without electricity, including most of Lummi Island, according to Puget Sound Energy’s online outage map. Most outages were blamed on “trees/vegetation.”
Firefighters around Whatcom County answered numerous calls for downed trees in roadways and for arcing wires caused by wind or by falling limbs.
On the Nooksack River at Ferndale, gage height at 1:45 p.m. Wednesday was 5.87 feet, up about 2 feet from Tuesday but well below flood stage of 19 feet, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Farther upstream near Nugents Corner, the Nooksack was running at 139.70 feet, with flood stage 146.5 feet.
Meteorologists issued a high wind warning from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday. Sustained southeast and south winds of 20-35 mph were forecast, with gusts to near 50 mph, the National Weather Service said. The flood watch is in effect until noon Thursday.
Hardest-hit areas were the North Sound region, including Everett, Whidbey Island, the San Juans and Bellingham.
“Winds of this magnitude can cause tree damage and scattered power outages,” the weather service said in a statement. “This will be the first event of this magnitude this season. Such events commonly bring more impacts in terms of tree damage and power outages than the same wind later in the season.”
Heavy rain was also expected, with 24-hour rainfall totals of 3-5 inches over the North Cascades and 1-3 inches in the lowlands of Whatcom County, forecasters said.
Wednesday’s weather also forced the Northwest Conference High School Cross Country Championships in Bellingham to be postponed 24 hours. The meet is now scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. Thursday on the Civic Stadium course.
Two Alaska Airlines flights to Seattle were canceled during the height of the storm. Lummi Island Ferry was idled for scheduled maintenance, but operators said it would have been sailing as normal despite the rough weather.
More rain is expected daily through at least Monday, with another strong storm, possible Friday night and Saturday, forecasters said. Daytime high temperatures will be in the mid-50s, with overnight lows in the high 40s.