Worst of storm over, but rains to persist — hastening tsunami debris
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Water flows over curbs in Sequim during Monday’s heavy rains in a town that doesn’t have a storm drain system. -- Photo by Jenifer Clark/Peninsula Daily News

By Arwyn Rice
Peninsula Daily News

The first big storm of the season dropped a 60-foot tree on a Port Angeles home, sent water across roads — and is probably accelerating the deposit of debris from the 2011 Japan earthquake and tsunami.

Steady rainfall is expected to continue through Sunday — including Thanksgiving — though the worst of it might be over, the National Weather Service said.

The rest of Thanksgiving week will be the “standard” seasonal rain and not as heavy as Monday’s downpours, said Jay Neher, meteorologist at the Seattle weather station.

The strong winds ended late Sunday night, and there is no indication that additional systems approaching Washington pack a similar punch, Neher said.

Rainfall on the North Olympic Peninsula ranged from 4.22 inches in Quilcene to about 0.75 inch in Sequim, according to reporting weather stations.

Wind gusts to 47 mph were recorded at Quillayute Airport.

More than 2 inches of rain took Forks over the 100-inch mark again on the year — with six weeks to go in 2012 to reach Forks’ famous annual foot of rain.

The storms are likely to help push Pacific Ocean debris from Japan’s March 2011 earthquake and tsunami faster than it might otherwise arrive, said Seattle oceanographer Curtis Ebbesmeyer on Monday.

Ebbesmeyer has been tracking a computer model of ocean and wind currents, combined with reports from the tuna fishing fleet operating in the North Pacific.

They indicate that the first big field of tsunami debris is about 400 miles off the Washington coast and probably will land on beaches next month, Ebbesmeyer said.

The Ocean Surface Current Simulations computer model developed by Ebbesmeyer and Jim Ingraham during three decades of ocean current research correctly predicted the arrival of the first lightweight, windblown tsunami debris in October 2011.

Weather patterns affect the speed of the arrival of the heavier debris, which travel an average of 10 miles per day, he said.

Ebbesmeyer explained that early predictions by the computer model indicated that the debris field would reach the Washington coast in October, but the summer’s unusual drought slowed the progress of the debris field.

“Droughts and storms change the pattern of the currents,” he said, and noted that the current storm pattern is likely to speed up the debris movement.

Ebbesmeyer speculated that the main debris field, which is 2,000 miles long and 500 miles wide, could include items as large as buses, cars and parts of houses.

He urged beachcombers to report their finds to his website, www.flotsametrics.com, so that he can create more accurate predictions of tsunami debris arrival and dispersal.

On land, the high winds and heavy rainfall left a mess and damage to a home southeast of Port Angeles.

A manufactured house at 183 Mount Pleasant Heights Lane was hit by a falling 3-foot-diameter tree at about 7 p.m. Sunday, said Clallam County Fire District No. 2 Assistant Chief Mike DeRousie.

DeRousie said damage to the house was estimated at $75,000, including a crushed roof.

A neighbor with a private weather station clocked the wind gust that toppled the tree at 60 mph, he said.

The occupant, Andy Simms, a member of the U.S. Coast Guard, said the majority of the damage was over the kitchen.

“I was in the living room when it happened,” Simms said.

He escaped unhurt and took several pets out with him.

On Monday, Simms was moving his belongings to a drier location and working to minimize the damage in his house.

The owner of the property, Robert Clancy, is on the East Coast as part of the superstorm Sandy relief effort, DeRousie said.

Several streets in normally dry Sequim were partially flooded Monday morning when the heaviest rainfall arrived.

Washington Street downtown had areas with 4 to 5 inches of flowing water. Heavy runoff flooded some intersections and sidewalks.

But there was no reported water in homes or businesses.

“Sequim has no storm drain system,” said Paul Haines, city public works director.

Instead, the city uses a system of ditches and swales that are supposed to gather and disperse water, he said.

Haines said the system usually works well for the low rainfall amounts for which Sequim is known, but it can’t handle heavy rainfall.

“We have staff out actively watching in case it gets a lot worse,” Haines said.

There were no problems reported in the Forks area, and the rain has seemed light compared with some storms, said Valerie Russell, Forks deputy city clerk.

There were no reports of serious flooding or of wrecks or road closures on major North Olympic Peninsula state highways, said Trooper Russ Winger, spokesman for the State Patrol.

But there were several road closures in Pacific and Grays Harbor counties due to mudslides, and a tree fell on a trooper’s car on U.S. Highway 101 in Pacific County, he said.

In that incident, a trooper had stopped at a mudslide near Naselle when the slide carried a tree into the trooper’s car.

The patrol car was then hit by another car, and both cars and the tree burned.

Winger said the trooper was not injured. The driver of the other car suffered a sore neck.

The state Transportation Department said Highway 101 was closed in five places between the Columbia River and Raymond by downed trees or collisions.

Other mayhem caused by the storm:

■ An elk hunter, 52-year-old Nathan Christensen of Seattle, died shortly before 7 a.m. when a fir tree crashed on his tent near Nehalem, Ore.

■ The state Transportation Department closed the North Cascades Highway, state Highway 20, at noon Monday because of heavy snow and avalanche danger.

There were three slides and more than 4 inches of snow within 90 minutes.

■ A semi overturned on the U.S. 101 Astoria-Megler Bridge between Oregon and Washington on Monday morning amid a fierce windstorm in which a gust of 101 mph was logged.

■ Puget Sound Energy reported 23,000 people in the dark Monday afternoon — mainly on Vashon and Bainbridge islands.

■ Mudslides in north Seattle forced cancellation of Northline Sounder rail service between Seattle and Everett, while Amtrak said service was disrupted between Seattle and Vancouver, B.C., through Wednesday.

■ In downtown Port Orchard, water was up about halfway to cars’ tires as the rain poured down there. Flooding also was causing issues along Seabeck Highway and Arnold Avenue, off Beach Drive in South Kitsap.

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Reporter Arwyn Rice can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5070, or at arwyn.rice@peninsuladailynews.com.



PDN news partners KOMO-TV and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Last modified: November 19. 2012 6:07PM
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