The rains came late, but snowpack’s not a concern

EVERETT — It’s rained nearly half as much here in the past week as it did in the previous three months combined.

As of midday Monday, 2.28 inches of rain had fallen in January at Paine Field, nearly all of it coming on or after Jan. 7. For October, November and December, the total was 5.48 inches — about 7 inches less than the average of 12.68, according to figures from the National Weather Service.

Early-January rainfall is already well above the total December figure of 1.61.

And the first mudslides of the wet season came Sunday evening. Two mudslides forced cancellation of Sounder commuter trains on Monday. Last year, by contrast, 170 trips were cancelled in the fall and winter months by mudslides.

This week’s slides occurred in Everett and Mukilteo, according to Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway. The railroad places a precautionary 48-hour moratorium on passenger rail trips once a slide is cleared.

Also during the past week’s rains, the weather service issued only its second flood watch of the fall and winter months for Snohomish County waters.

The dry autumn brought the best of many worlds to the county. It kept flooding and mudslides at bay and provided mostly clear roads for drivers.

Meanwhile, in the mountains, it didn’t hurt business much at the Stevens Pass ski area, an official there said, and the low overall precipitation was not expected to diminish summer water supply, which depends on the snowpack that accumulates in winter.

Mark Murphy, emergency program manager for Snohomish County, said the reprieve from flooding has been welcome.

“We’ll keep an eye on things,” he said.

On the roads, the autumn saw more frost and ice than usual in rural areas, but otherwise dry weather made for good driving conditions, county public works director Steve Thomsen said.

“Not only has it been a relief because we haven’t had any high-water, over-the-road events, we haven’t had to do as much snow and ice work out there,” he said.

For some ski areas in the state, the relative drought has translated into tough economic times, but not at Stevens Pass, said Chris Danforth, vice president for sales and marketing.

Snoqualmie Pass opened for the season on Friday. Crystal Mountain has had intermittent closures. Stevens, though, has been open most of the season and all through the holidays, Danforth said.

The snowpack was lower than average, but as of last Thursday it was still 43 inches near the lodge and 64 inches in the upper reaches. By Monday it was up to 63 and 83, respectively.

Visitors are down about 8 percent from last year, but it could be worse.

“We’re actually quite pleased,” Danforth said.

Stevens has drawn customers from other ski areas, he said. “We’ve kind of benefited from Snoqualmie’s misery, I hate to say.”

The lower rainfall did mean a slight drop in power production at the Jackson Hydroelectric Project, said Neil Neroutsos, a spokesman for the Snohomish County Public Utility District. The PUD runs Culmback Dam at Spada Lake and a powerhouse downstream. The project supplies about 5 percent of the electricity for Snohomish County and Camano Island.

Before last week, rainfall was about three-quarters of average so far for the year measured from July 1 to June 30, Neroutsos said. Annual precipitation at Spada Lake is 163 inches per year, he said.

Most of the county gets its water through Spada Lake and Lake Chaplain. The city of Everett runs a treatment plant at Lake Chaplain and supplies water to most of the county.

“We typically see more precipitation in the spring and are not concerned about water supply,” said Meghan Pembroke, spokeswoman for the city of Everett.

The National Climate Prediction Center forecasts average precipitation and below-average temperatures for the Pacific Northwest through March.

Winter’s not over, Murphy cautioned.

“We’ll just see what happens,” he said. “Mother Nature’s going to exercise that vote she gets.”

Bill Sheets: 425-339-3439; bsheets@heraldnet.com.

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