The new dump of snow in the Cascade highlands that brought hope to the hearts of skiers could turn into a headache for people living near flood-prone rivers late this week. Unseasonably warm weather and...

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The new dump of snow in the Cascade highlands that brought hope to the hearts of skiers could turn into a headache for people living near flood-prone rivers late this week.

Unseasonably warm weather and rain are expected to arrive today, dousing more than 2 feet of snow that fell on parts of the Cascade Mountains on Tuesday and yesterday. That sets up prime conditions for high rivers fueled by melting snow, said Cliff Mass, a University of Washington professor of atmospheric sciences.

The National Weather Service yesterday issued a flood watch through Saturday for eight Western Washington counties: King, Snohomish, Skagit, Whatcom, Clallam, Grays Harbor, Jefferson and Mason. That means flooding is possible but not imminent.

Emergency-management officials in several counties said they were taking a wait-and-see attitude but were prepared in case things took a turn for the worse. In Skagit County, emergency-management director Tom Sheahan said the county is prepared to open the emergency-operations center tonight if the Skagit River reaches its flood stage in the town of Concrete.

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“This could be an unusual storm,” Sheahan said.

Despite the recent bout of rain in the lowlands and snow in the mountains, the season already is on track to disappoint skiers and farmers, and lift the spirits of people prone to depression when the sun goes away.

Chalk that up to El Niño, the warming of water temperatures in the central and eastern Pacific Ocean that can influence weather trends as far away as the Pacific Northwest, said state climatologist Philip Mote. Here, it usually makes for higher temperatures and less precipitation than usual.

“We have been betting all fall that things were going to be a shade warmer and drier and that’s worse for snow. Certainly the drier part has been holding up so far,” he said.

Crystal Mountain ski area announced it will open Saturday after receiving roughly 3 feet of snow in recent days. But it’s one of the only resorts in the Seattle area to announce it’s opening. Mount Baker ski area is already open.

Skiers are hoping the weekend forecast is accurate: The freezing level is expected to drop back down to about 3,000 feet.

Precipitation for October and November was between 70 and 85 percent of average in much of Western Washington and less for Eastern Washington, according to the weather service. Temperatures hovered around normal in November in the Seattle-Tacoma area at 45 degrees.

Warren Cornwall: 206-464-2311 or wcornwall@seattletimes.com