Heavy rains in the mountains and already swollen rivers may add up to big trouble in Snohomish County river valleys today.
Major flooding is forecast along the Skykomish, Snohomish and Stillaguamish rivers. Tuesday night the National Weather Service issued flood warnings for Western Washington rivers and small streams, including in Snohomish and Skagit counties.
“Last week’s storms filled up the rivers,” John Pennington, director of Snohomish County Emergency Management, said Tuesday. “This week takes them way over the top.”
The Skykomish River near Gold Bar was expected to hit flood stage by this morning, spurred by heavy rains that were forecast to pound the Cascades overnight.
Morning flooding also was expected on the South Fork Stillaguamish River in the Robe Valley, Granite Falls and points downstream.
Flooding was expected toward early afternoon in Arlington and along the Snohomish River in Monroe. High water likely will be widespread in the Snohomish River Valley by Thursday, officials said.
Heavy runoff out of the mountains means flooding could happen quickly, creating potentially dangerous conditions if people aren’t prepared, Pennington said.
“The volume could come in hard and fast,” he said.
The most violent flooding may hit areas along the Robe Valley and along the Skykomish near Index and Gold Bar, Pennington said.
The ground is saturated and landslides could be a threat in parts of the county, including the Oso area.
Emergency planners have been preparing for this latest round of floods for three days. They’ve alerted fire districts, public works departments and other emergency responders, Pennington said.
Authorities are asking people who live in flood-prone areas to be prepared.
“The warnings, just like this weather system, can change quickly. We’d ask people to heed the warnings,” Pennington said.
The Snohomish County Chapter of the American Red Cross is prepared to open emergency shelters in Arlington, Darrington, Granite Falls, Monroe, Stanwood and Sultan.
Drier weather is forecast for later in the week but authorities are preparing for floodwaters to stick around in many of theses places until Saturday.
Paul Cunningham is ready. The Sultan man has stocked up on groceries and bought gas for his generator.
Tuesday afternoon, Cunningham and his teenage sons, Nicholas and Deon, were filling sandbags behind the Sultan city public works building. They loaded them into the back of his blue minivan. He expects his house won’t see flooding but some of his neighbors closer to the river will. He’s bringing three dozen sandbags to one of his neighbors who has trouble getting out of the house.
“If it’s as bad as they say it’s going to be, they’ll be hit,” he said. “They’ll try to wait it out as long as possible.”
His family lives in a neighborhood bordering the Skykomish River and he knows when the water starts to rise, the only road leading to his house likely will disappear under several feet of water. His family plans to ride out the flood in their home.
“We have a big truck that will make it through (the flood water) but we don’t chance it,” he said.
More firefighters were on call Tuesday evening at the firehouse in Sultan. These included water rescue teams, said firefighter Ron Bertholf. Firefighters plan to drive backroads where homeless people are known to camp and warn them of rising waters. Many of them don’t know that floods are expected until the water is at their tents, he said.
Bertholf said he talked with many people Tuesday who were getting ready for flooding. Many were deciding which side of the river they wanted to ride it out.
The National Weather Service in Seattle issued a flood warning for all of Western Washington through late Wednesday as a series of storms was expected to bring heavy rain and high winds.
Weather forecasters and emergency planners were watching conditions in the mountains, where more than 10 inches of rain is expected to fall. That runoff is going to end up in the rivers and produce some major flooding in areas, said Johnny Burg, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Seattle.
Rain in lowland areas of Snohomish County isn’t expected to top much above 2 inches so some urban flooding is possible, but it’s not considered a major threat, he said.
“Most of the rain is going to be squeezed out by the mountains. Our main concern is how much is going to fall there,” Burg said.
Marilyn Harvey of Snohomish said she doesn’t worry about floods as much as she used to.
Harvey, 68, has grown up in the area and knows the ways of the river.
“I’ve been through millions of floods. I’m not really worried,” Harvey said. “I just wish that I could stay in my house and not have to get out.”
Harvey, who lives in the 10100 block of Airport Way, just began her annual preparations to protect her home and her business.
“I know that nature can be very powerful and you never really know what it is going to do,” Harvey said.
So when the river rises, Harvey will be ready: She’ll grab her toothbrush and her 2-year-old shih tzu, Ellie, and go stay with her relatives.
Firefighters in Gold Bar had their eye on the rain gauge Tuesday afternoon, said Lt. Wendy Enyart. When the river begins to rise she drives flood-prone areas in and around town monitoring the situation. The water came up fast on Wallace River and Mays Creek last week and officials don’t want to be caught off guard.
“Until it starts to pour, we’ll just continue to do the rounds,” she said.