The Gristle

April Showers

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

APRIL SHOWERS: Few things about weather in the Pacific Northwest are certain, but when the National Weather Service predicts—as they did last weekend—the chance of rain is 100 percent, you’d better prepare. As Mark Twain once quipped, “We all grumble about the weather, but nothing is done about it.”

In a way, though, that’s not altogether true.

Heavy rains have triggered landslides and fears of landslides, road failures and fear of road failures, and that in turn has produced action.

Residents near the community of Oso temporarily evacuated their homes on a rainy night last week due to fears of a slow-moving landslide. People living near the site of the deadly 2014 landslide noticed cracks and faults along a road that connects to Highway 530 in Snohomish County and called authorities. Geologists will continue to monitor the area, which is still unstable from the more violent slope failure three years ago that engulfed 49 homes in an unincorporated neighborhood on the North Fork of the Stillaguamish River.

Certainly less devastating but closer to home, the popular Hertz Trail along the north shore of Lake Whatcom remains partially and temporarily closed while parks crews clean up landslide debris. Repeated freezing and thawing of snow and ice, working like a pickaxe in weaknesses in the steep slopes above, likely helped produce the slide.

The Washington Department of Natural Resources released a guide and report this week in tandem with the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries to help homeowners identify and reduce landslide hazards around the home.

As noted in their report, landslides are one of the most common natural hazards in the Pacific Northwest. One cubic foot (7.5 gallons) of water weighs 62.3 pounds, increases downward force on steep slopes, and the region receives gallons and gallons of rain in this season. Due to steep topography and heavy precipitation, Washington and Oregon are some of the most landslide-prone states in the country. This winter’s heavy snow and rain totals—at record levels in February and March—have resulted in a high number of landslides in both states.

“The direct cost of landslide damage includes the repair of roads and property and the loss of life,” DNR geologists note in their report. “Indirect costs, such as loss of property value and tax revenue, and environmental effects, such as the degradation of water quality, can exceed direct costs. The Washington Department of Transportation routinely budgets $15 million a year for cleanup of landslides on highways. Nationally, landslides exceed $2 billion in loss each year and result in an estimated 25–50 deaths.”

Whatcom County Council is currently at work methodically updating sections on geological hazards in the county’s Critical Areas Ordinance—a balancing document that attempts to govern and protect resource lands and the ecological processes that sustain them, while allowing for appropriate productive use of that land and property. They will present those updates in a public meeting later this spring, and the updates will most certainly include discussion on recent heavy weather events.

Responding to weather incidents statewide, Governor Jay Inslee this week submitted a request for federal aid to help 15 counties recover from the impacts of severe winter storms including Whatcom and Snohomish counties. Inslee urged the Trump administration to consider the cumulative impacts of weather-related disasters on the state and all its counties since 2015. Severe weather, floods, high winds and wildfires cost the state more than $323 million during this period, with the federal government providing $155 million in disaster assistance and emergency aid to local, state and tribal governments.

“Winter storms caused injuries, power outages impacting 100,000 customers, and other significant disruptions around the state,” Inslee noted. “Cleaning up and repairing damages will take months to years, and our local communities will benefit greatly from federal assistance.”

Whatcom County declared an emergency in early February, citing winter storms with heavy snow, extended arctic winds, and periodic power outages. The county suffered freezing rain and ice-covered roadways creating hazardous and impassable road conditions, with heavy rains flooding snow-filled ditches. Inland cities of Everson and Lynden experienced a large amount of debris from the snow and freezing rain, making safe passage on roads almost impossible. High flows from snow melt caused a massive culvert failure in the farmland district and a sinkhole created a 20-25-foot gap that required emergency shoring of the road and removal of the culvert, the governor detailed in his letter.

If the president agrees to the governor’s request, this storm would be the fifth major disaster declared in the state in less than two years.

Much of the damage identified in preliminary damage assessment by the federal Emergency Management Agency in late March was to roads. The freeze-thaw cycle caused significant damage to foundations, pavement and drainage systems to more than 750 local and state roadways.

FEMA’s public assistance program, if granted by the president, would provide grants of 75 percent for the eligible cost of emergency response, debris removal and repairs to damaged infrastructure. Typically, the remaining 25 percent is split between the state and impacted jurisdictions. A decision on the state-local cost share will be made in the Legislature in coming weeks.

The Pacific Northwest, according to all models, is expected to ride out the coming years of increasing climate instability and catastrophic storm events with comparative calm in contrast to climate disasters forecast for other portions of the continent. It will rain, though—longer, heavier, perhaps more erratic and less seasonally useful than in the past. Preparedness and planning policy is our only umbrella.

Smoking Crow
Past Columns
New Energy

January 17, 2018

Save Our Salish Sea

January 10, 2018

Predictions of Protractions

January 3, 2018

Parsing the Puzzle

December 27, 2017

Camp Kelli

December 20, 2017

Gifts of the Three Magi

December 13, 2017


December 6, 2017

Gulag Goulash

November 29, 2017

Bronze Rule

November 22, 2017

Napkin Plan

November 15, 2017

Less Wave Than Slosh

November 8, 2017

Statistics of Shame

November 1, 2017

Cashing Out, Cashing In

October 25, 2017

A Creeping Paralysis

October 18, 2017

Fire and Water

October 11, 2017


September 27, 2017

Ounce of Prevention

September 20, 2017

Dwelling On It

September 13, 2017

Keeping the Dream Alive

September 6, 2017

A Bridge Too Far?

August 23, 2017

Cascade Games Convention

9:00am|Bellingham Cruise Terminal

Garage Sale and Health Fair

12:00pm|Settlemyer Hall

Bellingham Folk Festival

4:30pm|Bellingham Unitarian Fellowship


7:00pm|Bellingham Arts Academy for Youth

The Flick

7:30pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

Space Trek, Backyard Brawl

8:00pm|Upfront Theatre

Pancake Breakfast

8:00am|Ferndale Senior Center

VFW Breakfast

8:00am|VFW Hall

Mason Bee Management

9:00am|Garden Spot Nursery

Smoking Crow Opening

9:00am|Smoking Crow

Plant Society Field Trip

10:00am|Birch Bay State Park

Nordic Ski Ambassadors

10:00am|SnoPark at Salmon Ridge

Skagit Eagle Festival

10:00am|Howard Miller Steelhead Park

March on Bellingham

10:00am|Bellingham City Hall

Winter Farmers Market

10:00am|Depot Market Square

Of marching and mending


Travel to Cuzco and Machu PIcchu

1:00pm|Blaine Library

Cedar Weaving Workshop

2:00pm|Lynden Library

Teddy Bear Biographies

2:00pm|Ferndale Library

Learn to Grow a Vegetable Garden

2:00pm|Sumas Library

Mona Openings

2:00pm|Museum of Northwest Art

Mysticism in Art

2:00pm|Skagit County Historical Museum

Exploring Port

2:00pm|Seifert & Jones Wine Merchants

The Fight Against Human Trafficking

3:00pm|Everson Library

Kindgom Quest

4:00pm|Village Books

Music and Memories

5:00pm|Swinomish Casino & Lodge

Robert Burns Supper

5:30pm|Littlefield Celtic Center

Ensemble Electra

7:30pm|Jansen Art Center

The Good Lovelies

7:30pm|Lincoln Theatre

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea

7:30pm|McIntyre Hall

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Cascade Games Convention

9:00am|Bellingham Cruise Terminal

Bellingham Folk Festival

4:30pm|Bellingham Unitarian Fellowship


7:00pm|Bellingham Arts Academy for Youth

Skagit Eagle Festival

10:00am|Howard Miller Steelhead Park

Community Breakfast

8:00am|American Legion Post #43

Rabbit Ride

8:00am|Fairhaven Bicycle

Rabbit Ride

8:30am|Fairhaven Bicycle

Bellingham Chamber Music Society

3:00pm|First Congregational Church

Nonfiction and Memoir Writing Group

3:00pm|Village Books

Southside Community Meal

5:00pm|Our Saviour's Lutheran Church

Way North Comedy

7:00pm|Farmstrong Brewing Co.

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Cuban Salsa Classes

6:00pm|Bell Tower Studios

Salish Sea Early Music Festival

7:30pm|St. Paul's Episcopal Church


8:00pm|Bellingham Public Library

see our complete calendar »

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