EVERETT — Michelle Chevalier lives in Darrington, but she and her husband work in Arlington.
Around 9 a.m., her husband got through flood water covering Highway 530 just outside of Arlington, but within 90 minutes, the water had risen too high to get through in her SUV.
“My husband just said it was really, really bad, and you should get home as soon as can,” said Chevalier, 55.
The Stillaguamish River eclipsed its “major” flood stage Tuesday morning, far exceeding earlier forecasts, shutting down Highway 530 and topping an all-time high water mark in Arlington.
In Silvana, a town set on an island formed in the Stillaguamish River, firefighters were asking the town of about 200 people to either “leave or hunker down in place” Tuesday afternoon, Snohomish County Fire District 19 Chief Keith Strotz said. The town was cut off from Pioneer Highway in both directions, he said around 1 p.m., and he believed it would soon be cut off from Larsen Road as well.
“This is pretty significant for us,” Strotz said. “But it’s just a normal flood.”
After days of showers, Western Washington was bludgeoned by heavy rain from an intense atmospheric weather pattern Monday. A “huge swath of moisture” approached the region across the Pacific Ocean, resulting in record-high temperatures for this time of year, according to the National Weather Service. Seattle reached 59 degrees.
Over an inch of rain fell on Everett in 24 hours.
Downstream, rivers were flooding, or expected to see severe flooding, all around Snohomish County and the region.
The Snohomish River takes a little longer to approach flood stage as the water has many tributaries. Overnight the river was expected to touch “major” flood stage, too, in Snohomish.
‘What the river actually does’
On Tuesday afternoon, the confluence of the Stillaguamish River forks was more than 7 feet above flood stage in Arlington — and a couple inches above its all-time record high. The previous high crest came in December 2010, according to the weather service.
The Stilly’s forecasted peak kept growing leading up to Tuesday. Just a day earlier, it was expected to see some “minor” flooding, then predicted to top out just below “major” flood stage, according to the weather service. But rain kept falling into the valley. And the river kept climbing.
Around 10 a.m. Tuesday, authorities shut down Highway 530 near Twin Rivers Park, northeast of downtown. A Snohomish County sheriff’s deputy turned away vehicles.
The Stillaguamish exceeding meteorologists’ expectation is in the “flashy” nature of the river, said Scott North, spokesperson for the county Department of Emergency Management.
Some of the steepest mountains in the state are in Snohomish County. It’s only a few miles from the timberline to sea level. Any snow runoff from the nearby mountains can quickly change the dynamics of the river.
“The weather service has their forecast, then we see what the river actually does,” North said.
North warned people to stay clear of flooded areas and to drive carefully.
By sunset, the worst of the rain was behind the county, said Lucia Schmit, director of the county’s emergency management. County crews were monitoring river gauges and conditions — in Silvana and Stanwood, in particular — to make sure authorities have the resources to fight the flood.
“Now is not the time for people to walk down to the rivers to see how high the river is,” Schmit said. “Our emergency responders are busy trying to support people whose houses have been impacted. The more people use common sense and not try to drive through flooded roadways and not go down to the river valleys to take a peek, that would really help us.”
Late Tuesday afternoon, Schmit met with around 100 city officials who represent towns susceptible to flooding. In Stanwood, the dikes are over a century old and the only protection from the Stilly’s waters flooding 2,200 acres of farmland. The city was fully loaded up with sandbags, Stanwood Mayor Sid Roberts said. The Puget Sound’s tide was beginning to recede at the time the river peaked, which was good news for the city.
“We’re at the bottom of the food chain here,” Roberts said, “but we’re getting saddled up just in case.”
Roberts checked on the dikes west of Stanwood, which appeared to be in good shape. The most the town can do now is wait for the water to come their way.
‘A huge swath of moisture’
Monty Old woke up at 4 a.m. and started knocking doors and calling neighbors to alert them to a creek flooding along the Stillaguamish’s south fork. He saved his neighbor Curtis Babb’s chickens from drowning and found another neighbor’s mailbox 20 yards away.
Babb and his wife moved their cars, an expensive cat litter box and some photos from the garage. But they lost Christmas decorations and groceries they kept in the fridge downstairs. They bought their house three years ago. This was the most severe flooding they had seen on the Stillaguamish.
The river’s south fork at the Jordan Road bridge and the Skykomish River near Gold Bar reached the “moderate” flood stage Tuesday morning, according to the weather service.
After noon, the Skykomish’s rise appeared to be plateauing, about a foot away from major flood stage.
Four people and a dog were walking around 12:30 p.m. in Al Borlin Park in Monroe, when they turned around to find they had been cut off by the Skykomish’s rising waters.
Snohomish Regional Fire and Rescue crews rescued them with the help of two rafts, fire district spokesperson Peter Mongillo said. The rescue team brought one person back at a time, walking them up the bridge to South Lewis Street. It was unclear how long they had been stranded. There were no injuries.
Brandyn Miller, 54, bought a house in Sultan right off the river bank in 2020. Two weeks after she moved in, 5 inches of water flooded her house.
On Tuesday, she leaned on her doorstep looking toward River Park, which was underwater. Miller tried to decide whether she should stay or head back to Seattle, where she is from.
In the summer, the city throws the Sultan Shin Dig in the park.
“I’m on the front line for a lot of stuff. They do a lot of events right here, and it’s very exciting,” Miller said, “but this is the downside of being on the front line.”
‘You don’t know if the road is stable’
In the hours after midnight Tuesday, the Washington State Patrol responded to over a dozen collisions in the county, state trooper Kelsey Harding said. In Arlington, 220th Street NE and 300th Street NE closed early on due to water in the road, according to the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office.
The 17000 block of Engebretsen Road near Granite Falls closed due to high water. Firefighters rescued a driver whose car got stuck in the flooded road around 6:30 a.m.
The sheriff’s office posted other notable road closures on Twitter.
Chris Faith, a resident of the Arlington area for 30 years, drove to Everett for a rowing class early Tuesday. On the way back, around 9:15 a.m., Highway 530 wasn’t closed.
“Well, it must be OK,” she figured at the time.
“But it really was fast and deep,” she said. “I thought I would be swept aside.”
Rain kept falling Tuesday as a cold front stalled over Western Washington. Another 1 to 2 inches of rain was forecast for the North Cascades region. By Wednesday, forecasters predicted another inch for Everett.
John Moon, another Arlington neighbor, came down to a road closure to bring coffee to a sheriff’s deputy. But when he got there, the deputy was gone, so Moon took over “trying to stop people from going through” the closure.
“I can’t legally tell you not to, but I try to stop people from doing stupid things,” he said, in an accent of his home country, Australia. “Bloody idiots.”
Ahead, a pickup driver was trying to cross the submerged road at about 5 mph.
The state Department of Transportation had no estimate for when Highway 530 would reopen near Twin Rivers Park. The only other way for Darrington residents to get to I-5 is to go north toward Rockport. But up north, the Skagit River was expected to swell feet above its major flood stage, cresting Wednesday afternoon in Mount Vernon. That river’s rise was expected to stop 2 feet short of the record.
Andy Forrest, 83, walked along the Sultan River pedestrian bridge Tuesday afternoon, on his way to get lunch at a senior center nearby. He has lived in Startup for seven years. He wanted to get there a little early so he could get a look at the river.
“I’m just interested and wanted to watch it,” Forrest said, holding a pink umbrella. “It happens every couple to three years. It’s a lot of water and it’s different to see.”
A flood advisory was set to remain in effect Tuesday for parts of Western Washington, including Snohomish County. The weather service warned of water over roads and overflowing drainage. The atmospheric river was expected to weaken in intensity as the week goes on. Snow levels were predicted to drop from around 7,500 feet to below 5,000 feet by Thursday.
Looking ahead, landslides are a potential danger. When heavy rain mixes with soil, it makes it looser, causing the dirt to slump.
In March 2014, following heavy rain, a wall of mud swept away a neighborhood on Highway 530 between Oso and Darrington, killing 43 people in the deadliest landslide in U.S. history.
According to the county’s hazard database, up to 60,000 residents of Snohomish County live alongside steep slopes.
The forecast for this weekend, according to the weather service? A “quick-hitting” system that will bring more rain and “moderate to heavy” mountain snow.
Then next week, hopefully, a break in the weather.
Correction: An earlier version of this story said Silvana was being evacuated. Residents were asked to “leave or hunker down in place.”