Watch for watery roads

  • By Eric Stevick Herald Writers
  • Thursday, March 31, 2011 9:48am
  • Local News

Rivers rose. Roads were closed.

And a tank fired artillery rounds into a snow-choked mountainside.

Just another spring day in Western Washington.

Heavy rain in the central Cascade Range brought floods to Snohomish County river basins Thursday and triggered a string of avalanches that closed U.S. 2 at Stevens Pass.

By Thursday evening, attention was focused on the Snohomish River, which was expected to crest in Snohomish around daybreak Friday.

“It’s going to get some farmland wet, but I think the biggest risk right now is if we have damage to levies,” said Mark Murphy, operations section chief for the Snohomish County Department of Emergency Management. “I won’t breathe a sigh of relief until the river goes below flood stage. It’s one of those things we really have to keep an eye on, and we will.”

Thursday’s flooding arrived later than it has for several years. A storm that dumped up to 8 inches of rain and melted snow in the central Cascades led to minor flooding on the main stem of the Stillaguamish River near Arlington late Thursday morning.

The North Fork Stillaguamish crested just below flood stage and the South Fork Stillaguamish was more than a foot below flood stage at its peak.

“Waters are receding slowly and the temperature is supposed to drop in the Cascades, so that should quell the waters,” Arlington city spokeswoman Kristin Banfield said. “We didn’t really have much in the way of action in town, which was a good thing.”

There was plenty of action in the mountains.

Four avalanches crossed U.S. 2 between about 4:30 and 6 a.m., state transportation spokesman Jeff Adamson said. One was about 15 feet deep and hit with enough force to move a concrete barrier.

A fifth avalanche struck early Thursday afternoon, forcing crews to retreat.

To reach the snow-covered stretches of highway safely, an avalanche control crew created man-made snow slides using artillery blasts from an M60 tank, Adamson said.

Transportation crews have been using the old surplus Army tank for about five years. The state owns two tanks for snow management. Two others are there to provide salvage parts.

“We can do avalanche control much more efficiently” using tanks, Adamson said. “It has reduced the traffic impact.”

The avalanche danger kept the highway closed at Stevens Pass all Thursday. Traffic was stopped at milepost 58, near Wellington, and closed all the way to the pass summit. Thursday night, it had not reopened.

National Weather Service meteorologist Chris Burke said people should beware if they see water over the roadway on low-lying roads.

He offered a simple piece of advice: “Turn around, don’t drown.”

Public works crews in Everett had to contend with a different kind of water trouble Thursday morning.

A 12-inch water main broke on Hewitt Avenue around 6 a.m., causing the closure of some lanes in an area between Virginia Avenue and Cedar Street.

Roughly 1 million gallons of water gushed away. On a typical day, the city of Everett provides more than 40 million gallons of water to about 700,000 people inside and outside municipal boundaries.

What caused the 70-year-old cast iron pipe to break wasn’t immediately known, city spokeswoman Kate Reardon said.

The right shoulder of the eastbound U.S. 2 trestle in Everett was closed at least part of Thursday in anticipation of flooding, state transportation officials said. The crane can be used if emergencies arise, such as logs getting stuck against the trestle’s structure.

Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446, stevick@heraldnet.com.

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