Winter weather hits region hard: heavy rains, mudslides, street flooding

Nov 19, 2012

Forecasters say the wet and windy weather with mountain snow will continue this week in Washington, but there may be a lull on Thanksgiving Day. The current deluge so far has resulted in a few mudslides, street flooding and a state trooper’s car being smashed.

The National Weather Service says a series of Pacific storms are aiming to hit the Northwest every day or two.

Getting around

The morning commute around Seattle was tough, but the commute home today may be a bit easier.

That’s according to Seattle Public Utilities, which has been taking hundreds of calls and dispatching crews to clear storm drains. At the same time, the forecast predicts fewer torrential downpours like the ones that triggered urban flooding this morning.

Sarah Miller is in charge of drainage and wastewater operations for SPU. She says they’ve dispatched 30 crews to clear leaves that clogged drains and left many roadways swamped. It’s a bit like calling the plumber in to snake a water line, but on a larger scale.

“We have these big Jetvac trucks that are like your vacuum cleaner on wheels,” Miller says. “They suck up sand and gravel out of catch basins. They also have a fitting on them that they can jet a line to clean it of any blockages. So they can clear the pipe so that the water can flow to the downstream.”

She says even though the city knew the big rain was coming, they couldn’t prevent the flooding, because the system isn’t designed to handle the heaviest rainfall that happens this time of year. 

What you can do

She says neighborhood efforts can help keep those areas clear as well because they leaves are coming from points upstream. So if everyone adopted their drains in Fremont and the University District, the leaves they clear would  not make it down to Mercer and I-99.

"The more people that do that, the less calls we have to respond to," Miller says, adding the city only owns a total of 30 Jetvac trucks. "And with 80,000 drainage inlets in the city of Seattle, we can't be everywhere at once."

Not a lot of flooding

The Skokomish River in Mason County has reached flood stage, but forecasters say other Western Washington rivers probably won't flood in the next couple of days.

Snow will be heavy in the Olympics and Cascades above 4,500 feet and could affect travel over the higher passes.

For Eastern Washington, forecasters say the weather patter means periods of mountain snow and valley rain, with the chance of minor flood.

Forecasters say there could be a break in the stormy weather on Thursday.

Mudslide hits WSP car on Highway 101 near Naselle 

NASELLE, Wash. – A Washington State Patrol trooper had stopped at a mudslide on Highway 101 near Naselle when the mudslide carried a tree into the trooper's car. Then patrol car was hit by another car and both cars and the tree burned.

Trooper Russ Winger says it was the worst of several weather-related incidents on the Washington coast in Monday's wind and rain storm.

Winger says the trooper is not injured and the driver of the other car is OK, with a sore neck.

The Washington Transportation Department says Highway 101 was closed in five places between the Columbia River and Raymond by downed trees or accidents.

A semi-truck tipped on the Astoria-Megler bridge across the Columbia. Another semi blew on its side on the Chehalis River bridge in Aberdeen.

Slides affect passenger train service in Seattle 

Heavy rains and winds are affecting passenger train service between Seattle and Everett.

BNSF Railways spokesman Gus Melonas says the railroad placed a 48-hour moratorium on passenger and commuter trains travel between Everett and Seattle starting around noon Monday.

He says crews are working to clear trees, mud and debris that have covered parts of the mainline track. He says there have been at least 10 slides affecting tracks since Monday morning.

Most routes in Washington are open to freight travel.

North Cascades Highway closed by heavy snow 

WINTHROP, Wash. – The Washington Transportation Department closed the North Cascades Highway at noon Monday because of heavy snow and avalanche danger.

The department says there were three slides and more than 4 inches of snow within 90 minutes.

The department says the closure is temporary, but the section of Highway 20 over the north Cascades typically closes for the winter this time of year.

Hunter killed as big storm pounds Oregon coast 

PORTLAND, Ore. – A storm pounding the Oregon coast has taken the life of an elk hunter near Nehalem.

Chief Perry Sherbaugh of Nehalem Bay Fire and Rescue says a fir tree crashed on the hunter's tent Monday morning, killing him instantly.

Sherbaugh says two hunters in an adjacent camp heard the tree snap and saw it lying across the tent. They cut it away in an attempt to rescue the man, to no avail.

Sheriff Andy Long of Tillamook County identified the hunter as 52-year-old Nathan Christiansen of Seattle.

Wind gusts of more than 70 mph have been reported along the coast. Toppled trees have caused sporadic road closures and power outages. One fell on a Seaside fire truck.

Forecasters say rainfall in the higher elevations should total 4 to 7 inches.