Lessons from a wet winter

A week ago, I held the opinion that we were in for a mild winter—that Mother Nature and La Niña weren’t all they were cracked up to be.

But, one flood later—one ‘minor’ or ‘major’ depending on whether you live in its path—and I’m inclined to change my mind.

A few days ago, we were tightening our blinds against unseasonable sunshine. Then came snow, then rain and a second flood of the season. While the volume of last weekend’s flood was moderate in terms of cubic feet per second, and the impact small compared with the ‘big ones’ of 1990, 2006 and 2009, plenty of lower Valley residents’ property went underwater and will have to be cleaned up.

Also, my heart goes out to the family of the North Bend highway worker who was killed when a tree fell on his truck during the storm. At the time, he was working to put out cones and protect drivers near Carnation.

Valley residents can draw some lessons from what we’ve been through already this season. On top of that list: the oft-repeated warning never to drive or walk into flooded areas.

One month ago, when the Snoqualmie River reached minor flood stage on December 12, North Bend firefighters had to scramble to rescue two adults and a child from the roof of their vehicle. Their car had stalled in floodwaters on Southeast Reinig Road.

Rescuers had to perform a similar rescue last Sunday when a couple became stranded on a closed roadway near Fall City.

According to Fall City Fire Chief Chris Connor, past floods have seen people drive into floodwaters and lose their lives.

“I hate to see people killed because they made a bad decision,” Connor said.

Personally, I’ve witnessed my share of looky-loos during floods, as well as people walking through floodwaters, either escaping from floods or hauling supplies to their cut-off homes. If you or a loved one were trapped by floodwaters, the urge to escape or find help would be great. But those murky waters could hide a pitfall or an undertow. You simply can’t be sure if your next step is a safe one.

Early warning

One thing that worked well this winter was the Valley’s flood warning systems. Subscribers to e-mail alerts like Floodzilla had several days—in December, more than a week’s worth—of warning of the water on the way. They could see the predictions for themselves and make decisions about whether and how to protect their property. I know I was glued to Floodzilla over the Martin Luther King, Jr., holiday weekend. With more winter to go, it’s wise to keep an eye on those automated alerts for a while.

While some parts of the country experience flash flooding, at least in the Valley, our high water is fairly predictable. With proper foresight, we can know when high water or winter storms are coming, then prepare.

Two years ago, this Valley experienced heavy snowfall, followed by a devastating flood. So far this season, we’ve avoided major disasters. But spring skies—hopefully sunny ones—are still months away. And Pacific Northwest weather can be so fickle that floods can happen outside of winter.

It’s well and good to be prepared for flooding and know how to stay safe when bad weather comes. But in the long term, the only way to prevent dangerous floods is to mitigate for them, by maintaining and improving our waterways. Whether this means dredging the built-up gravel and debris in the Snoqualmie River, or perhaps some other way, it would be so helpful to folks in harm’s way if real progress is made before a big flood returns.

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