Saturday, December 11, 2010

Flood On The Way

I've been avoiding this post for the last few days, but can no longer ignore the situation:  The National Weather Service says a flood is coming our way.

We’ve been sitting on a powder keg here since we had that heavy dump of snow last month. Heavy snow in the mountains, in early winter is a mixed blessing: It promises the possibility of normal flows in our rivers next spring and summer. This is a good thing for agriculture and our anadromous fisheries. The down side is that early winter weather can be volatile and that heavy snow pack could easily turn into raging torrents in the rivers that drain the high mountains should we get a ’pineapple express’ coming in off the Pacific. The Pacific is the source of our weather; when it comes from the north Pacific, it’s moisture whipped to a frozen froth on arctic air out of the Baring sea. From the south it’s warm tropical winds, laden with heavy dumps of warm rain. In La Nina years, like this one, this risk is heightened.

My friends at the National Weather Service have been telling us for two days that we should brace for heavy rains on Saturday, Sunday, and into Monday. Rain in these parts is no news: Chance of showers, showers turning to rain, intermittent rain, rain showers, these are all code words for, ‘plan on getting wet today’. The forecast is also accompanied with a percentage. Officially this is the percentage chance of this weather actually developing. Locals look at this number pretty closely, we generally think that if it says something like "40% chance of showers", what that really means is its gonna rain about 40% of the time, dress accordingly.

So looking at the forecast for this weekend, all three days (including Monday) say either 90%, or 100% chance of rain. And on Sunday NWS says 100% chance of heavy rain. (no need for interpretation there) For us, this is an ominous warning.
I don’t think the NWS is perfect, but I look to them for my weather information. So when I see a forecast like this, I switch over to their Northwest River Forecast Center. For ‘river people’ this information is invaluable. You get an idea of the likelihood of flooding, how bad it will be at given points along the river, and even a very good idea of when, within an hour or so the flood will crest in your area of concern. Though we live 40 miles upriver from the ocean, tides still have an effect on river flows here, and can make a difference in the crest elevation of the flood. The NWS river stations we watch are the Chehalis at Grand Mound (upriver from us) and Porter, downriver.

The river is going to flood, that much is pretty clear, whether or not it will be bad enough to flood our house (or our neighbors) remains to been seen.

This part, right now and for the next couple days is alternately terrifying and depressing. You know it is coming, and you also know there is not one damn thing you can do to stop it. (I don’t handle helpless very well). We’ve made our preparations, there is no more we can do to ready for the deluge. So when I got up this morning, (after checking the weather) I made a couple loaves of bread. They are in their second rise, and will probably go in to the oven in an hour or so. It gives me something to occupy my hands and takes my mind off the trouble that is coming down the river to visit us.

For what it is worth, the optimist in me thinks we should come out of this unscathed, but as I type this the radio goes quiet for a moment and then that emergency announcement screech goes off, (you know,the one where they always say, "This is a test") and the announcer says “The National Weather Service has issued a flood warning for the Skagit river, the Snohomish river at Snohomish, and the Chehalis river at Grand Mound. Only, he does not finish by saying "This is just a test". 

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