The Pacific Northwest saw another onslaught of heavy rainfall and high winds on Monday that forced evacuations and closed schools across the region.
An atmospheric river walloped the area late last week, with nearly ceaseless rain, and its tail end is “coming with one last strong push,” the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported.
The atmospheric river has been categorized at a level 5 — the highest level, according to The Weather Channel. These rivers in the sky are responsible for up to 65% of the western USA’s extreme rain and snow events, a 2017 study said.
Late Monday, Gov. Jay Inslee declared a severe weather state of emergency in 14 Western Washington counties and said the state Emergency Management Division, with support from the Washington National Guard, would coordinate the response.
Flooding and mudslides on Monday closed part of Interstate 5 near Bellingham, Washington. with three cars stuck in debris. No one was seriously injured, state Trooper Rocky Oliphant said on Twitter.
All schools in the Bellingham district and nearby districts closed Monday due to dangerous travel conditions.
The city saw record rainfall on Sunday, with 2.78 inches in one day. The previous record was .88 inches in one day, in 1998.
Caylon Coomes of Bellingham drove his truck and paddle board from his home near Lake Whatcom to some flooded city streets near the interstate.
“It looked pretty good out there (by the lake) but the street looks a little bit better,” he said. Coomes met another man in a parking lot, and donning wetsuits, they waded into the water and paddled away past vehicles stuck in the floodwaters.
The Skagit River in Washington, close to the Canadian border, might see its highest level in 115 years, The Weather Channel reported.
As the water surged down the river, people were warned to expect flooding in Sedro-Woolley, Burlington and Mount Vernon. Just south of the border in Sumas, Washington, officials said city hall was flooded and that they hadn’t seen such extreme flooding since 1990.
“At this point in time there is no reasonably safe way to drive to Bellingham without putting yourself or others at risk. Please do not drive through standing or rushing water,” the city’s police department said via Twitter.
Southwest of Sumas, deputies using a Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office rescue vehicle evacuated stranded residents in the Everson area, officials said on Twitter. One person was missing after being swept away by floodwaters and had been last seen holding on to a tree, Everson police said via Facebook.
The National Weather Service warned that winds nearing hurricane strength were possible in the region. In Oregon, the heaviest winds will hit the coast, with gusts up to 50 to 70 mph. A gust of 58 mph wind was reported Monday at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.
More than 158,0000 customers were without power in western Washington at one point Monday, The Seattle Times reported.
Emergency officials warned that people should expect to see water in low-lying roadways and should turn around rather than drive through water on the road. That water can be moving swiftly and be deeper than it seems, posing a serious risk to people in vehicles.
Forecasters say conditions should improve by Tuesday after parts of the region have seen more than six inches of rain in the past several days.
Contributing: The Associated Press; Zach Urness, Salem Statesman Journal