Winds wallop Whatcom County, with more to come

A storm packing wind gusts as strong as 67 mph knocked out power in areas across Whatcom County, caused coastal flooding and broke loose a container ship Tuesday, Dec. 9.

Forecasters say to expect much the same weather Wednesday and Thursday, with possibly even stronger winds and the added likelihood of minor to moderate flooding along the Nooksack River and landslides from soaked soil.

The Horizon Fairbanks moored at Bellingham Shipping Terminal broke free around 9 a.m. Tuesday when high winds snapped bow lines and a cleat from the terminal and swung the more-than-600-foot ship from its usual mooring place. No one was aboard and no one was injured as the ship drifted more than 90 degrees, pivoting where the stern was still attached to the dock. The bow caught on sediment in a shallow part of the Whatcom Waterway channel, preventing it from swinging any further.

No fuel was on board, and the ship wasn’t damaged, said Neil Clement, Port of Bellingham’s emergency management and security officer.

Large power outages began as early as 2:45 a.m. Tuesday across the county, but the majority came around 8:30 a.m. as wind gusts were reaching their maximum. Large swaths of the Birchwood area in Bellingham, the Silver Lake neighborhood and Acme lost power. Puget Sound Energy crews also responded to dozens of other small outages, fewer than 50 customers each, across the county.

The winds also forced cancellation of one Alaska Airlines flight out of the Bellingham airport.

The storm surge slammed waves along the coast, flooding some roads including sections of Birch Bay Drive. Wind toppled lots of trees, some of which blocked roads.

Perhaps lost among all of the other wild weather news, this was the hottest Dec. 9 on record in Bellingham. The airport’s weather station hit 63 degrees. The old record, 58 degrees, had stood since 1950.

Until the winds taper off later this week, gusts could continue to top 60 mph.

A high wind warning issued by the National Weather Service remains in effect until 4 p.m. Wednesday. It calls for sustained south to southeast winds of 30 to 40 mph with gusts up to 70 mph. A high wind watch for Thursday and Thursday night could produce sustained winds of 35 to 45 mph with gusts to 75 mph.

Minor coastal flooding is expected about 8 a.m. Wednesday, similar to what happened Tuesday. The NWS also is monitoring conditions that could bring a 1- to 2-foot storm surge above high tide Thursday morning, causing more extensive flooding.

Heavy rainfall through Thursday is expected to trigger some landslides as soaked soils give way.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plans to monitor the two largest rivers in northwest Washington, the Skagit and the Nooksack, throughout the week. Heavy rains could lead the rivers to peak above their flood stages on Wednesday and Thursday.

The Nooksack near the bridge at Nugents Corner is expected to border on what’s considered “minor” to “moderate” flooding by 4 p.m. Wednesday, according to the National Weather Service. Meanwhile in Ferndale the forecast calls for “minor” flood levels. Flooding on the Skagit has the potential to be more serious.

After this series of storms, the forecast looks a bit more sunny starting Friday.