An El Nino winter may still bring flooding, warns county

County leaders urge residents to prepare now for the real possibility of flood emergencies this winter.

  • Friday, October 2, 2015 3:57pm
  • News

Forecasts of an El Niño weather pattern may suggest a warmer, drier Puget Sound winter ahead, but King County leaders warn that our rivers remain serious flood risks, and urge everyone to prepare now for the possibility of severe flooding.

“We need to remember that five winters ago we had record flooding and the evacuation of 44,000 people in Western Washington,” King County Executive Dow Constantine, who on Friday joined the King County Flood Control District in recognizing October as Flood Awareness Month, said in a press release. “We all hope for the best, but it is critical that your family be prepared, now, with an emergency kit at home.”

King County Councilmember Reagan Dunn, Chair of the King County Flood Control District, noted that the county’s ongoing population growth could mean scores of new residents are living in flood-prone areas and not even know it.

“Since our last major widespread flooding event in 2009, King County’s population has grown from 1.916 million to 2.017 million people,” said Dunn. “That’s more than 100,000 people that may have never been impacted by flooding before that need to be prepared.”

King County has experienced 12 flood disasters declared by the President since 1990.

To prepare for a flood emergency, families can assemble a basic emergency preparedness kit for the home, with items such as a flashlight with spare batteries, a portable radio, non-perishable food, drinking water, and books or games for younger family members.

King County also offers free access to KC Flood Alerts, an automated system that allows subscribers to receive customized alerts of potential flooding for any or all of King County’s six major river systems.

Immediate notifications about pending high water are sent to email, smart phone text or voicemail, providing subscribers with the maximum amount of warning about potential high water.

Sign up for KC Flood Alerts at www.kingcounty.gov/flood. This website is a valuable preparedness resource, with all of the latest information about river levels and road conditions, plus weather reports and other critical links.

King County also issues flood-related notifications and other emergency information via RPIN, the County’s regional emergency information and notification system. Learn more at www.kingcounty.gov/RPIN.

Additional preparations for flood season include:

• Buying flood insurance now; it takes 30 days for a policy to take effect, and a standard insurance policy will not cover flood damage. Contact your insurance agent or visit www.floodsmart.gov.

• Monitoring area news media for information when severe weather is predicted. Listen for alerts about evacuation routes, and monitor local road conditions and obey closure signs.

• Minimizing flood damage by storing valuables and electronics higher, and by moving vehicles and equipment to high ground before flood waters rise.

• Disposing of hazardous chemicals, such as lawn and gardening herbicides, at one of the county’s household hazardous waste sites to help reduce harmful contaminates in flood waters. Learn more at www.kingcounty.gov/hazwaste.

Once a flood event is imminent, King County employees will mobilize and begin to gather, analyze and distribute flood warning information so that residents, businesses, property owners and emergency response officials can make important health, safety and economic decisions.

When river levels rise to designated thresholds, King County’s Flood Warning Center is opened and staffed around-the-clock to monitor river gages, weather data, dam operations and road closures. When warranted, staff are dispatched to address safety concerns, such as flooded roadways, and to check on flood control facilities.

In most locations, the County’s flood warning system provides at least two hours advance notice before floodwaters reach impact levels. The center works in close coordination with the County’s Road Services Division to give citizens up-to-date information on road closures.

When the Flood Warning Center is open, citizens can directly contact King County staff 24-hours a day with flooding concerns and questions by calling 206-296-8200 or 1-800-945-9263.

Questions or assistance with flooding on smaller streams or urban drainage problems can be called in to 206-477-4811 during business hours, or 206-296-8100 after hours or on weekends.

Efforts to protect people and property have earned King County the highest rating of any county in the United States under Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Community Rating System. As of 2014, King County’s high CRS rating saved flood insurance policyholders in unincorporated King County $830,265 – an average of $578 per policy.

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