By the time it crests on Monday, the Spokane River will reach its highest level since 1974, hydrologists predict.
That has Spokane city officials worried about drownings and other accidents, as crowds swarm downtown for tonight’s Lilac Festival parade.
Portions of Riverfront Park will be roped off to keep visitors away from the water. The park’s suspension bridge, a popular spot for watching the falls, will remain open unless the mist enveloping the bridge becomes a steady spray, said city spokeswoman Laurie DeVarney.
Officials warned boaters to stay off the river. Firefighters pulled two men wearing life jackets from the water Thursday after their raft overturned near Riverside State Park, said DeVarney.
With water temperatures in the 40s, “hypothermia is a real concern,” she said.
The Spokane River flowed at 38,000 cubic feet per second Friday as near-record snow melted under unseasonable warmth. That’s twice the river’s normal spring flow, said Dana Anderson of Washington Water Power Co.
National Weather Service hydrologists expect the river to crest at about 40,000 to 41,000 cfs Monday morning. If they’re right, it will be the highest flow in 23 years.
That 1974 flood, when the river flowed at 45,000 cfs, was called a 40-year event. In February 1996, the river hit 38,500 cfs.
Although it’s expected to stop rising Monday, the river could stay high “well into next week,” the weather service predicted.
On Friday, crews for the Spokane Parks Department stacked sandbags in Peaceful Valley, where streets closest to the river were flooded.
City crews closed Upriver Drive east of downtown, where water was axle-deep in places. Residents from the Riverview Terrace and Edgewater Village apartments watched ducks dabble in the water outside their apartments.
Spokane Power Tool, Sunrise Wood Products and the U.S. Postal Service were among the Trent Avenue business pumping water from their basements.
That flooding came not from the river but from underground, said Rich Hansen, a battalion chief for the city fire department. With the ground saturated, the water table is rising, he said.
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