‘Atmospheric rivers’ threaten new floods in hard-hit Washington state

Residents in Washington state were on Saturday preparing for possible flooding as “atmospheric rivers” once again threatened parts of the US north-west, which saw heavy damage from such extreme weather earlier this month.

Flood watches were issued for much of western and north-central Washington and the National Weather Service (NWS) warned that flooding was possible through Sunday in north-western Washington.

Heavy rains and rising rivers were also expected over the weekend in the Cascade and Olympic mountains.

“We are expecting rivers to rise and possible flooding in some locations by early tomorrow morning,” said Gary Schneider, a meteorologist at the NWS Seattle office. “Right now, there’s no river flooding going on.”

Schneider said that if flooding were to occur, it would likely happen on Saturday night or Sunday morning.

Forecasters said an atmospheric river – a huge plumes of moisture extending over the Pacific and into the north-west – could bring up to 3in of rain in some areas hit by the recent flooding.

Like parts of western Canada, Washington state is still assessing millions of dollars in damage from the last atmospheric rivers. In Whatcom county, officials said damage costs could reach as high as $50m.

The last floods closed the US-Canada border in the small city of Sumas and three bridges in Bellingham, with landslides blocking Interstate 5 south of Bellingham.

This weekend’s atmospheric river event should not be as “severe”, Schneider said.

“It’s still going to be a pretty decent rain event, but [the flooding earlier this month] was kind of an historic event. So we’re not expecting a repeat of that,” Schneider said.

Meteorologists predicted that rain would taper off on Sunday and that Monday should be relatively dry.


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