Friday, December 7, 2007

Floods roundup

I'm back from San Diego, which is an odd place to be, in sunny 70 degree weather, when your home state is drowning under floods. It's strange to turn on CNN and see the lead story covering places just an hour from your home. Lots of folks have called or e-mailed me asking about the status of Mount Rainier National Park, so I apologize for being out of touch at this critical time. Here's a roundup of what's happened and where we stand.

Mount Rainier National Park seems to be fine. That could still change, as many wilder parts of the park are inaccessible at the moment due to winter snow, and we could find pockets of devastation when the snow melts in the spring. But so far, so good: all of our road and levee repairs held up well through the storm, with only minor erosion and some trees down. This storm was not nearly as bad as the one a year ago... for us at Mount Rainier. It was, of course, devastating for people in Chehalis, Tillamook, and other areas where the storm hit more directly, including Olympic National Park.

Storm stats: Acting Superintendent Roger Andrascik wrote on Tuesday morning: "The Nisqually River at National appears to have crested at 2200 hours Monday 12/3/07 at 11.37', below the predicted 11.8' and well below the historic 12.8' in 2006." Flood stage is 10 feet. Here's a link to the current streamflow data for the Nisqually River, and to the left you'll see a chart for the period of the storm. We got about 6 inches of rain in a little over 24 hours, far less than the 18 inches we got in 36 hours last year. Looks like maximum stream flow was about 9,480 cubic feet per second, compared with an average discharge of around 12,000 cfs on November 6, 2006. At 2pm on December 2nd (and for several hours before and after), Camp Muir was getting 95 mph sustained winds with gusts to 111 mph, before the wind station gave out that night.

Storm reports: Here's a summary report from the NPS Morning Report for December 5:

Mount Rainier – The park received 3.7 inches of rain in a 24-hour period on December 3rd. Despite continuous heavy rainfall throughout the park during the day and throughout the night, no significant damage was reported. Some flooding, mudslides, and runoff overtopping roadways occurred in local areas outside the park, causing hazardous driving conditions getting to and from Mount Rainier. An interdivisional planning team put contingency plans into effect in the event that the heavy rainfall began to affect the safety of visitors or employees. Non-essential employees were provided several hours of administrative leave in the afternoon to assist them in getting home to their families safely during daylight hours. The Nisqually River reached flood stage around 10 a.m. and continued to rise until it crested at 11.37 feet later that evening. As a comparison, the devastating flooding that occurred in the park a year earlier (November 6, 2006) crested at 12.8 ft. Roadway repairs, culvert improvements, and stream reinforcements constructed following the 2006 flood all survived this most recent event and performed as designed. The park returned to normal operations on the morning of December 4th.

Olympic fared worse (see also a similar report on their website):

Olympic NP – High winds and heavy rains dropped trees throughout the park and caused a record-breaking rise in the Elwha River. The river reached a record high level on Monday when it peaked at 24.65 feet, 4.65 feet above flood stage. The previous high stage was recorded in November 1949, when the river peaked at 24.2 feet at the McDonald Bridge gage. The river rose 14 feet in the 24 hours that preceded its record-setting stage. At the river’s peak stage, 32,500 cubic feet per second (cfs) of water was flowing past the McDonald Bridge gage; 24 hours earlier, the flow was only 658 cfs. The river level began dropping yesterday, and was predicted to drop below flood stage by late afternoon.

On Tuesday, park crews began cutting their way through numerous downed trees in an effort to access park entrance roads, make damage assessments, and begin repairs to damage caused by the storm. Only Kalaloch was open yesterday, and the park was not recommending travel to that area. With Highway 101 closed at Lake Crescent and Highway 112 only recently reopened, staff have been challenged in reaching the park’s west side destinations. Yesterday morning, maintenance and ranger staff were ferried across Lake Crescent by boat in order to reach the area. The summary of known damage follows:

  • Elwha Dam – Shortly after the river hit its peak, floodwater began entering the Elwha Dam powerhouse. Bureau of Reclamation employees put Emergency Response Level 1 into effect, which is primarily a notification and preparation phase. All appropriate emergency contacts were notified. The next step would have been to evacuate the powerhouse, but this didn’t happen because the waters began to drop. Assessments on Tuesday revealed only minor damage to one of the log booms at the dam, which can easily be repaired. At the height of the flood, the operators were holding back some water behind the Glines Canyon Dam further up river, while all ten spill gates were open at the Elwha Dam.
  • Hurricane Ridge Road – Crews have cleared two rockslides from the road and are assessing possible damage to the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center. Wind speeds of up to 86 miles an hour were recorded on the ridge on Monday. The Heart O’ the Hills campground remains closed due to earlier damage from a November 12th windstorm.
  • Elwha – The Olympic Hot Springs Road is closed at the park boundary as crews continue to assess flood damage. Rangers report that many sites in the Altair campground have been washed away by the high flows.
  • Lake Crescent – Highway 101 is closed around Lake Crescent between mileposts 222 and 232. The westbound lane of Highway 101 was severely damaged when a debris flow blocked a culvert and diverted water over the road about four miles west of Barnes Point.
  • Sol Duc Road – A mudslide 5 feet deep and 60 feet wide is covering the Sol Duc Road about a half-mile south of Salmon Cascades. Damage beyond that point has not yet been assessed.
  • Hoh Rain Forest – The Hoh Road is closed, with water flowing over the road at Snyder Creek within the park as well as outside the park boundary. Just over 14 inches of rain were recorded at the Hoh Visitor Center in the past 48 hours.
  • Mora – The Mora area remains closed pending damage assessments.
  • Quinault Rain Forest – Over seven inches of rain fell in the Quinault Valley between December 2nd and 3rd and high winds toppled many trees. The North Shore Quinault Road is closed by downed trees and electrical lines and crews are working today to reopen the road. The North Fork and Graves Creek Roads remain closed.
  • Ozette – The Hoko-Ozette is closed with downed trees and power lines.
    Dosewallips, Staircase and Queets Roads – The roads remain closed due to previous damage and unsafe conditions. The Deer Park Road is closed for the season.
Here's an update on Olympic from December 6 (and, again, you can see a similar report, with a picture, on their website):

The park continues to recover from the severe storm that struck the region earlier this week. As park crews gain access to roads and facilities, additional damage has been discovered in some areas, while other roads have reopened. Phone and electrical service are still out in the park’s western areas. A summary of known damage follows:
  • Hurricane Ridge Road – A major slide near the Switchback Trail brought mud, debris and water over the road. Once the slide was cleared, workers were able to spot several areas of extensive damage to the road shoulder along the downhill lane. The road will remain closed this weekend to allow crews to fully assess the damage and begin repairs. The Heart O’ the Hills campground is closed due to earlier damage from the November 12th windstorm.
  • Quinault Valley – The North Shore and South Shore Quinault Roads are closed due to downed trees and electrical lines. Crews are continuing to cut their way through the trees to reopen the roads. There is no electrical or phone service at Quinault. The North Fork and Graves Creek Roads remain closed and have not been assessed yet.
    Hoh Road – The Hoh Road is closed at its intersection with Highway 101. One lane of the road was washed out within Jefferson County; minor damage has also occurred within the park.
  • Elwha – The Olympic Hot Springs Road, the Whiskey Bend Road and Elwha campground have all reopened. Elwha Valley’s Altair campground was not as severely damaged as initially thought; receding floodwaters have revealed many sites to be damaged by the flooding, but no sites or structures were lost. The Altair campground is closed throughout the winter season.
  • Lake Crescent area – Highway 101 has reopened in the Lake Crescent area. Both the East Beach and Camp David Junior roads are open and cleared.
    Sol Duc Road – The Sol Duc Road remains closed due to a mudslide about a half-mile south of Salmon Cascades.
  • Mora – The Mora area has reopened, including the Mora campground.
  • Ozette – The Ozette area is closed with downed trees and power lines.
  • Dosewallips, Staircase and Queets Roads – The roads remain closed due to previous damage and unsafe conditions.
  • Deer Park Road – The road is closed for the season.

More sources of news: Lots of other websites have good sources of up to date information. Start with the Northwest Parks and Public Lands Storm Recovery Coalition, set up after last year's floods, whose most recent posting is titled "Winter storms rip through Northwest: Parks hit again." The National Parks Conservation Association's National Parks Traveler blog reports "Pacific storm shuts down most of Olympic National Park," and comments, "If this keeps up, we're going to have to redefine the '100-year storm.'" (That's global climate change for you.) The Washington Trails Association's Signposts blog has on top of the news, with an initial report titled "Another mountain flood" that begins "I'm starting to feel like Chicken Little," and a follow-up report called "Two hikers dead, storm hits hard." The hikers died in an avalanche near Snoqualmie Pass. While you're at it, by the way, you can also check out "One year later, much storm damage awaits repair," an article that will now need to be updated, and "One year after the storm," which also remains very relevant. Finally, check this out: Ironically, tomorrow is the Washington Trails Association's volunteer appreciation party on the Olympic Penninsula. They'll need volunteers more than ever this next year. Which brings us to:

How you can help: Contact Maggie Tyler, the volunteer program manager at Olympic National Park, to offer assistance with their flood recovery. And don't forget that volunteers are needed in a lot of other areas as well! We don't have much going on at Rainier this time of year, so go help where you're needed! Then come back here next summer, as we'll have plenty to keep you busy continuing to clean up last year's flood!

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