From drizzle to downpours, ‘atmospheric rivers’ are wreaking havoc on western Washington

Data pix.

SEATTLE-- Heavy winter rains continue to hammer western Washington. The culprit is a jet stream that's taking moisture from the tropics near Hawaii and sending it right into Western Washington.

While the rain has varied in intensity from drizzle to downpours, it just keeps on coming. These events are often called "atmospheric rivers," and since they're also coming from the tropics carrying warmer than normal temperatures you might also know them as being a Pineapple Express.

While larger cities right on Puget Sound like Seattle and Everett are getting impressive amounts of precipitation, it's the foothills and mountains that are catching the most intense amount of precipitation.

Wednesday, the National Weather Service office in Seattle at Sandpoint had more than two inches of rain. Paine Field near Everett had about an inch and a half. That's nothing though compared to the heavy rain that's been see in Monroe. The 48-hour rainfall total at the fairground there is more than 14 inches of rain. Darrington, in the Cascade foothills, has had 10 inches of rain in the last two days (as of this writing). And the rain keeps coming. 

That warm rain is not only rushing downstream, it's melting snow, too. The combined rain and snow melt has pushed more than a dozen rivers in Western Washington above their banks.

The NWS Seattle has categorized the flooding into three categories -- major, moderate, and minor -- though some of these bodies of water, even at moderate flooding levels, are getting into homes and businesses.

The good news is that the forecast is calling for the steady and heavier rain to ease up tonight. The Flood Watch for western Washington is currently set to expire Friday evening.

The Flood Warnings, which indicate that flooding is actively happening or imminent, will last for some rivers well into the weekend. Rivers in the mountains and foothills will likely crest within the next 12-24 hours. It will take time for that huge amount of water to work down to sea level, so some for some certain rivers in the lowlands it could be Sunday before they return to within their banks. 

Caution is advised in these types of flooding events. Floodwater can move lots of debris and even rip up chunks of pavement if it's moving fast enough.

One of the reasons the phrase "turn around, don't drown" is used so often is because it only takes a few inches of water for a car to lose steering control and only about a half a foot to carry away some vehicles.

Walking into flood waters can also be dangerous: fast moving water can sweep a person off their feet without warning. Underwater tripping hazards can also get you to take a tumble and get really wet.

This water is also really cold, so hypothermia for those trying to escape floodwaters is a genuine concern. Most of the flooding related deaths in Washington State are from people who drive or venture into flooded waters. 

While some soaking rains Friday night into Saturday are in the forecast, they don't look at this point to take direct aim at the Central Puget Sound, which has seen the burnt of this storm's soggy wrath. By Saturday afternoon we'll start to dry out and even get two much-needed dry days in a row on Sunday and Monday.

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