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Atmospheric river creates flooding, hazards

Nearly 4.5 inches of rain fell within 48 hours

An atmospheric river of torrential rain over several days caused the Skokomish River to crest at its second-highest recorded point Tuesday and flooded and closed roads throughout Mason County.

The National Weather Service on Tuesday issued flood warnings in parts of Western Washington, including much of the Olympic Peninsula.

Flooding and hazardous conditions prompted the state Department of Transportation to close state Route 106 from U.S. Highway 101 to Alderbrook at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday. Other roads closed that day included Skokomish Valley Road, Bourgault Road West and Purdy Cut-Off Road, all overtaken by the Skokomish River.

According to preliminary flood gauge data provided by the National Weather Service's Advanced Hydrological Prediction Service, the Skokomish River near Potlatch crested at 18.01 feet at 6:15 a.m. Tuesday.

If confirmed, it would be the second time in the river's recorded history it passed 18 feet. The river's record crest of 18.16 feet occurred during a rain-on-snow event Dec. 3, 2007. The river's primary flood gauge is near the U.S. 101 bridge.

At Shelton's Sanderson Field, rain gauge data show 4.46 inches of rain fell in a 48-hour period that concluded at about 4 a.m. Wednesday.

In North Mason on Tuesday, Belfair Tahuya Road was closed from its intersection with North Shore Road to the Tahuya River Road, from milepost 8.16 to milepost 11.74. Lower Elfendahl Road was closed from North Shore Road to its intersection with Belfair Tahuya Road; a river runs parallel with that stretch.

Mason County Administrator Mark Neary said the county declared a state of emergency Tuesday morning due to floodwaters.

"We've declared a state of emergency, preparing for a disaster," Neary told Mason County commissioners at the meeting.

"If we get to a point where our fire districts can no longer provide life-safety response to certain areas of the county or if we have significant damage to roads that will cause an impact, we may come back to the commissioners and ask you to declare a disaster," Neary said.

The state had already issued an emergency number for the flood event Tuesday, according to Neary.

"We had 40 inches of snow in the mountains over the weekend and it warmed up and rained. All that turned into water. A pretty significant event," he said.

Commissioner Randy Neatherlin said the declaration was a way for the county to access state resources.

"This is part of our process that we go through," he said. "This does not mean all heck is breaking loose."

At 5 a.m. Wednesday, the National Weather Service posted a statement that a flood warning continued on the Skokomish River at Potlatch. "The river is receding and will continue to recede the next couple days," it stated. The agency also posted some advice: "Turn around, don't drown when encountering flooded roads. Most flood deaths occur in vehicles. Be especially cautious at night when it is harder to recognize the dangers of flooding."


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