Too Much Rain

The catchphrase for this blog is “Island living from an islanders perspective.” Considering the work of the tourism industry, that would sound like a prelude to lists of the best restaurants, parks, shows, shops, and the rest. Those describe island visiting. Island living also involves bridge closures and ferry interruptions, and the island version of other pesky details like weather extremes. Here, in the first week in February, we’re dealing with road closures, water restrictions, landslides, other wind storm coming in – and maybe a return of the snow. Winter reality, something that’s easy to ignore on a summer day in August. Sometimes it simply rains too much.

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A week ago it was snow with a bit of wind. Gusts to 60mph aren’t hurricanes and won’t make the national news, but when it is your BBQ grill flying down the street it gets your attention. The snow, only a few inches, but with years without snow, it isn’t a surprise when the road crews have too few plows to work with. Have the snow weigh down the trees which snap the lines and cover the snow-covered streets and watch road and power and cable crews try to untangle the mess.

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Today, it is rain, but not the normal pattern. Usually, one part of the island will cheer the Olympic Mountain rain shadow, while the neighborhoods north and south work their wipers. Or, on overcast but calmer days, subtle atmospheric interactions inspire the Puget Sound Convergence Zone, a place where air flowing around the south of the mountains hits air that flowed around the north of the mountains, they hit, and the water falls out, or even snow several inches deep but only a few miles wide. Today it is just rain, rain, rain. And so it was yesterday, and the day before, and for the next couple of days, too.

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Too much rain covers roads and fills parking lots. Great flat buildable parcels may not drain for days. During the local flood in your yard, watch for septic tanks and fields that are overwhelmed. Gutters and downspouts fill and do what they can, but there are limits. Currently, various stretches of road or selected intersections are closed, or shouldn’t be tried – though of course some will tempt the arrival of the tow truck.

Here’s one most people don’t expect. In the midst of too much rain, some residents are asked to use less water. Huh? Too much rain can mean storm waters overwhelm sewers, washing unsafe water past treatment plants. Until the clean water plant can clean its water, the surplus of water is coupled with a shortage. It also means shoreline water may be carrying landside waste.

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Change that word ‘landside’ by one letter and get ‘landslide’, which is another topic. Whidbey Island, particularly the southern part, is known in the global geological community for the risk of landslides. It is the nature of land that contains the remains of glaciers. Pebbles and gravel roll, especially when lubricated with so much water that the land is saturated. The County has a database of unstable slopes, something worth consulting when buying property, and something worth browsing if you’re a geology geek. The Ledgewood slide made the national news, but slides happen along the shore’s bluffs. Be careful traveling the beaches on days like this, and for the next few days until the lands drain.

Nature naturally moderates some effects. Wind and rain tend to be neighbors, but usually don’t arrive together. Wind then rain then wind again as storm fronts march through. Snow and cold can have the same kind of dance, snow as cold arrives as rains leave, leaving a few inches of snow under clear and cold skies which don’t encourage melting. The opposite is easier, cold air overtaken by warm wet air, which layers snow on the ground which is then melted when rain returns.

This is the week to mention such things as they have piled up. The National Weather Service publishes watches and warnings for each event. This time they are contained in a Special Weather Statement, a collection of warnings about rain, landslides, and then winds. Such a scenario tests trees. If the soil in their roots is saturated, the roots act as less of an anchor. If that soil is on a slope, that’s a few tons that may decide to follow gravity. As the winds hit, the anchors may be insufficient, and the tops can topple, even if the soil sits still.

Pointing out each detail can make a wet week sound like a disaster movie, but it is not. It is, however, the reality that islanders readily live with. Forget the umbrella, but don’t forget the good hat, jacket, and boots – and maybe gloves and rain pants. Watch for puddles, and don’t simply assume they can be driven through. Besides, if it is near high tide, and the road is near the water, that may be salt water which readily corrodes car frames. As for slides, don’t stand at the base of a bluff and wonder if it or a tree is going to fall on you. You can’t reliably outrun them. When you really need it, hire a geologist or similar professional to check your slope’s stability. The same is true with trees. An arborist’s visit can save you a lot of worry. As for the winds, if your BBQ really must sit on your porch, maybe invest in some good bungie cords.

Through it all, remember that summer is near.

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