The first day of March came in like a lion and out like a lamb for the Chehalis and Cowlitz rivers, both for which the National Weather Service (NWS) released flood warnings with worst-case scenarios that did not play out.
Most notably, the Cowlitz River in Randle was predicted to reach the major flood stage early Tuesday morning, which likely would have led to the closure of U.S. Highway 12. Instead, the river crested in the minor flood category. By the end of the day Tuesday, some sun shone through as the Twin Cities saw a brief window of 61 degree weather.
That’s fortunate, according to Lewis County Department of Emergency Management (DEM) Deputy Director Ross McDowell, who reported as of Wednesday morning there were no flood-related rescues required early in the week by local law enforcement or fire departments in Lewis County.
Though the rescue teams were on standby Monday night in case the NWS’s worst-case forecasts came true, the storm system ended up “falling apart as it moved in,” said Steve Reedy, a meteorologist with the NWS Seattle office, causing drier-than-expected days early this week.
“Meteorologists have their reputation for a reason,” Reedy said with a chuckle.
“We did get lucky with that,” McDowell said. “We were looking at it happening in the east part of the county and the west part of the county. The west part would have had two rivers flooding at the same time. That spreads your resources really thin.”
The DEM was already in motion Sunday when the NWS put the county on flood watch. Sandbag stations were set up first thing Monday morning and residents in potential flood zones were contacted.
“A lot of people are like, ‘Oh it’s like (the NWS is) crying wolf’ and well, not really. We prepare for the worst and pray for the least,” McDowell said.
Heavy rain storming through the region beginning Sunday did cause washouts and a few small landslides, according to DEM.
Flood waters also inundated roads after minor flooding on the Chehalis River in Doty and moderate flooding on the Newaukum in Chehalis.
On Wednesday morning, the Chehalis River at Centralia was reaching a crest just under the minor flooding category and the Chehalis at Grand Mound was just entering the moderate flood stage.
Slides and washout locations were reported on Blair Road in Centralia, Salmon Creek Road in Toledo, David Lake Road in Morton, Brim Road in Onalaska and over state Route 7 near Mineral, which was cleared by the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) on Tuesday afternoon. While SR-7 was cleared, WSDOT only allowed local traffic through the highway north from Morton and south from the bridge in Elbe.
McDowell said residents should still be alert to landslide risk and observe the signs of potential slides, which include water coming out of hillsides, slanted trees, shifted earth and smaller slides nearby.
Reedy also said the risk of landslides over the day Wednesday was “still present” as Lewis County continued to receive scattered showers. By Thursday and Friday, Reedy said things should be drying out.
“We are out of the woods, we are out of the danger, at least,” McDowell said. “Obviously, there's a lot of water that's still hanging out, hanging around here in town and all through the county. And that is because the ground is just saturated. We've had so much water and there's really nowhere for it to go. We have high tides right now, which does affect the way the water goes out (after flooding).”
For a complete list of road closures in effect, visit https://roads.lewiscountywa.gov/. The DEM also posts regular updates on its Facebook page, titled Lewis County Emergency Management.