East Lewis County is seeing the worst of the latest atmospheric river, which has sent roughly 3 to 4 inches of rain to the area within a 24-hour period and flooded the Cowlitz River at both Packwood and Randle.
The Randle area was forecast to enter into major flooding stage late Friday afternoon, cresting at 22.7 feet overnight. The Cowlitz at Packwood was forecasted to crest just below minor flooding about the same time at 10.34 feet.
The river was not expected to fall below flood stages until Saturday evening.
On Friday, the Washington Department of Transportation announced U.S. Highway 12 was closed due to water over the roadway.
Ross McDowell, deputy director of Lewis County Emergency Management, had said previously Friday morning that most major roads in East Lewis County were still open and operational.
Lewis County Fire District 14 in Randle on Friday began evacuating residents from the Cascade Peak RV Park, located along the Cowlitz River near Bennett Road in the Cora area, and houses along River Ranch Road near Highway 12, McDowell said.
The Lewis County Sheriff’s Office has also dispatched a rescue boat to assist with the response.
“These are locations that always flood. They always flood when it comes to the Cowlitz River,” McDowell said.
Highway 12 remained fully open and the Highway 131 bridge at the Randle T, which often gets overtopped by the Cowlitz, remained clear as of press deadline.
Not only is the east county seeing an onslaught of mountain precipitation, but McDowell said snow levels likely dropped and sent snowpacks rushing into the river, escalating the streamflow along the Cowlitz. Flooding in the Randle area is expected to be more severe than up in Packwood due to the tributary systems that feed into the Cowlitz River at the Randle valley, McDowell said.
“We’re pretty much right on the money when it comes to the forecast,” he said.
McDowell said the biggest thing for Lewis County residents to remember during flooding events and large rainstorms is to never drive through deep roadway waters.
“The biggest thing is do not drive through water. That’s where we lose people,” he said. “It doesn’t take much, and if you see it brushing over the roadway don’t go through it … It only takes a little bit to lose traction on your car and you’re floating away. That’s not a good thing.”
The Emergency Operations Center at the Seattle district U.S. Army Corps of Engineers also activated to help regional flood response efforts. As of Friday morning, they were working to respond to flooding in the Skagit, Snohomish and Snoqualmie basins.
They say they’re “closely monitoring” activity along the Chehalis, Cowlitz, Newaukum and Skookumchuck rivers, where minor to moderate flooding is expected.
Most of Western Washington is in a flood watch stage through Tuesday, though large portions of Lewis County remained under a flood warning.
The rainstorm was forecasted to extend into early next week. Heavier rains and breezes are expected to come through in a new system overnight Sunday and into Monday.
“Heavy rains will taper off tonight into Saturday morning. But it’s only temporary,” said National Weather Service Seattle in a Friday morning Tweet. “The Pacific is reloading. Another area of moisture north of Hawaii will head our direction Saturday night through Monday.”
Sandbagging Locations Open in Centralia, Chehalis, Packwood, Randle
Multiple locations in Lewis County late this week opened up to offer sandbags.
Lewis County Emergency Management recently opened its 24-hour, self-serve sandbag station at 19 SW Cascade Ave. in Chehalis.
The City of Centralia Public Works on Thursday opened up a self-served station located in the empty lot on the corner of Pearl and Maple streets, across the street from The Chronicle building.
The City of Chehalis Public Works Department on Friday opened up its self-serve sandbagging station at 25 SW Circle Ave, behind the Security State Bank in the gravel parking lot. Bags are limited, so the city recommends residents bring their own.
In East Lewis County, Area 7 Shop at 8911 Highway 12 in Randle and the Packwood Fire Station at 12953 Highway 12 in Randle had both sandbags and sand available to residents.