A simple WinterWise message: Prepare before the worst

Ben Plummer of Blue Sky Landscaping in Puyallup cleans up the leaves at BigFoot Java across from Liberty Park in downtown Renton.  - Dean A. Radford, Renton Reporter
Ben Plummer of Blue Sky Landscaping in Puyallup cleans up the leaves at BigFoot Java across from Liberty Park in downtown Renton.
— image credit: Dean A. Radford, Renton Reporter

Meteorologist Ted Buehner was right when he predicted in early October that the summer and fall dry spell would end abruptly.

The first 11 October days were dry, part of that 81-day streak. Then the rains came and seemingly didn’t go away. October ended tied as the fifth-wettest October at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, where records have been kept since 1945.

“I would say that’s abrupt,” he said.

Buehner is the warning coordination meteorologist with NOAA’s National Weather Service Seattle. He was part of the annual kickoff in early October of Take Winter By Storm, a regional campaign to help everyone get ready for whatever Mother Nature throws at us this winter.

This year, Western Washington can expect a neutral El Nino, similar to weather patterns in 2006 and 2009, when the dry weather changed dramatically, bringing heavy rain, flooding, windstorms and snow.

There’s even a good chance for a Pineapple Express, when warm, moisture-laden air flows toward the Northwest from around the Hawaiian Islands. The rain can fall for days.

Whether enough rain and snow fall to keep water reservoirs at acceptable levels in the Cascades is unclear, Buehner said. The prediction now is for dryer conditions than normal and predictions for the mountain snowpack are “all over the map.”

The odds are in favor of a smaller snowpack, compared to the last two winters when the colder La Nina weather patterns meant more snow in the mountains, he said.

Repairs have brought Howard Hanson Dam back to its flood-control capacity on the Green River before the massive winter storms of 2009. That means a return to what was considered a standard flood risk for the Green River.

The Cedar River is also controlled by a dam at the Chester Morse Reservoir, but that dam doesn’t hold back the water added downriver from creeks and runoff. The Cedar can flood, especially in the lowland areas in the Maple Valley area.

So what does all this mean? Simply, get ready – before the bad weather hits.

As Buehner puts it, don’t wait for the ice to thaw, the wind to blow, the river to rise or the snow to fly.

Get the car or truck ready for winter driving, buy chains (or find them), get your home ready for the cold onslaught and prepare an emergency kit for yourself and even your pets. Prepare to be on your own for at least three days.

“Don’t wait until the storm strikes to prepare – that’s too late,” he said.

The Renton Reporter special section, WinterWise, will help you get ready for winter. There are preparation checklists for what to do inside and out. Much of what’s needed is already in hand, Buehner said; it just needs to be organized.

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