While a warm and sunny March day sent pale Spokane area residents scrambling outside, it also helped wreak havoc on county roads and threatened some homes Thursday.
Rain, melting snow and saturated or frozen soil created flooding problems for residents across the Inland Northwest, with more rain expected Friday.
Those who live near rivers and streams are seeing the aftermath of March’s wet, mild weather as waterways across the region have begun to crest and flood. And residents not near a river are seeing large ponds and lakes forming on their property as remaining snow melts. Frozen ground has prevented water from soaking into the soil in some places.
Lake Coeur d’Alene and the Spokane River at Spokane may reach flood stage over the coming weekend, but flood effects should be minor.
People in Spokane will be treated to a thunderous hydro display at the downtown falls. In a news release Thursday, the Spokane Fire Department warned people to stay out of the river. The river has covered the Centennial Trail along Upriver Drive just east of Mission Avenue.
Spokane County Commissioners on Wednesday declared a state of emergency on rural roads being damaged by the heavy runoff. It is the second time in a month the commissioners have declared an emergency, which should help the county obtain federal disaster assistance for repairs.
Robert Keneally, maintenance and operations superintendent for the county, said the initial set of washouts in February has been estimated at a $9 million loss and the March damage may exceed that.
Crews will be devoted to fixing washed-out roads before they can concentrate on routine work, such as filling potholes and sweeping up traction gravel laid down during the winter. The county was working on a list of 15 roads that had washouts early Thursday and expanded the list to five more roads as the day wore on.
Flood warnings continued for Eastern Washington and North Idaho as forecasters called for three-quarters of an inch or more of rain Friday and Saturday. Forecasters also said flooding problems were moving north as snow melts in colder locales near the mountains.
In Pend Oreille County, a mudslide blocked state Highway 31 south of Metaline, Washington.
State Highway 20 was partially flooded for part of Thursday, forcing the state to send workers to guide motorists through in single-file, alternating directions.
A fire station in Hunters in Stevens County reportedly was flooded.
Structures at Williams and Badger lakes in southwest Spokane County also had flooding.
Chuck Clark’s home is between Badger and Williams lakes in a small development called the Weisman Addition. So much water from Badger Lake flowed into Williams Lake on Thursday that it covered the only road into the area.
Clark’s home, which is on Williams Lake, didn’t flood, but lake water covered a small retaining wall and most of his yard.
Farther west on Williams Lake, Keith and Elaine Beniasch watched nervously as water lapped at the foundation of their deck.
“This is really bad,” Elaine said. Keith added, “It’s rising about half an inch a day.”
Michele Durkee lives in Bunkers Resort, also on Williams Lake, and helps the resort owners tend to the property. Many of the lakeshore homes and trailers had water up to the front steps Thursday.
Durkee said part of the problem is that the culvert that drains Williams Lake into nearby Downs Lake was blocked. On Thursday morning, county crews cleared the culvert, which Durkee hopes will keep homes in Bunkers Resort from flooding.
“This is the worst it has been in over 60 years,” she said.
The Little Spokane River in Dartford, north of Spokane, entered minor flood stages Thursday morning, though water levels were expected to decrease before rising again Friday and Saturday once rain picks up, said Bryce Williams, a National Weather Service forecaster.
Fred Hyatt, a 50-year resident of Dartford, said he sees flooding like this every six or seven years.
“No, I don’t worry as long as it doesn’t hit that brick,” he said, pointing to his home’s brick foundation.
As of Thursday afternoon, the Little Spokane River was still roughly 10 feet from Hyatt’s house, although it had covered much of his backyard.
The St. Joe River in St. Maries and Calder, Idaho, also reached minor flood levels Thursday morning but was expected to recede later in the day and remain down for some time, Williams said.
But it’s the Palouse River at Potlatch, Idaho, and Palouse, Washington, that’s the most concerning to nearby residents and forecasters. After reaching moderate flood stages Wednesday, the river was upgraded to major flooding Wednesday night and Thursday near Potlatch.
“That’s the most concern to us right now,” Williams said. “It is at major flooding right now but is on it’s way down.”
Potlatch Mayor David Brown said the town is mostly OK because it’s built up from the river, but some smaller streams along county roads have spilled over onto roadways.
Jeff Circa, superintendent of Potlatch School District, decided Wednesday to cancel school for Thursday because of overflowing creeks. He said main thoroughfares were OK.
“The Palouse River is kind of going down,” he said. “It was maxed out and it’s kind of going down a bit.”
Across the border in Palouse, City Clerk/Treasurer Kyle Dixon said it looked as though the river had peaked at about 9 or 10 p.m. Wednesday and was slowly receding. He said businesses along Main Street, which runs next to the river, were unaffected, though a few residents may have had some flooding in their basements.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if we had one or two just off Main Street there,” he said. “But nothing major.”
He said the city ordered about 15 tons of sand Tuesday and was distributing sandbags to residents in need.
Hayton Green Park, just southwest of the city, was flooded, Dixon said.
“Most of the park is under water right now,” he said.
In the wake of Thursday’s dry weather, flooding streams and rivers are expected to go down before going back up through the weekend. Williams said many will again enter flood stages Sunday, including the Spokane River in Spokane, which is expected to enter a minor flood stage Saturday heading into Sunday.
On the West Plains north of Airway Heights, many residents were seeing large pools of water on their property from melting snow.
“All of the snow around the West Plains has been melted – the majority of it by now,” Williams said. “All of that water, combined with rain in that saturated soil, the amount of rain we’ve had, it’s just causing these basements, and fields and culverts to just fill up because there’s nowhere for this water to go.”