A wild week of windy, wet weather is finally finishing in northern California, Oregon, and Washington. [caption id="attachment_19690" align="alignright" width="300"]Tree Fell on House - via The Weather Network - atmospheric river via The Weather Network[/caption] Storms brought record rainfall and major damage. Two people died in Oregon. A landslide closed the northbound side of Interstate 5, the most heavily traveled road in Washington. Communities in both states were evacuated because of flooding. People lost power. A tornado touched down in southwest Washington. Mountain areas got almost two feet of snow. The governor of Washington declared an emergency for 13 counties. The phenomenon that caused all this damage is extremely common and in fact accounts for a third to a half of precipitation in west coast states every year. It’s called an atmospheric river, a narrow, long band of heavy water vapor that in this case came from the Philippines. A strong atmospheric river, like the Pineapple Express that often hits the west coast, carries more water than the Amazon River, the largest river on earth. When it stalls over land it drops that moisture in a rapid series of storms, causing flooding and landslides. It is not an El Niño phenomenon, though it may follow wind patterns caused by El Niño. Since atmospheric rivers are so common, it’s a good idea to prepare for their effects. Let’s review some of the damage and the best way to prepare for it. Flooding [caption id="attachment_19691" align="alignright" width="300"]Flood - via The Weather Network - atmospheric river via The Weather Network[/caption] A woman drowned December 9 after her husband drove past a road closed sign into high water northwest of Portland, Oregon. Flash floods are the top cause of weather-related deaths in the United States, according to Ready.gov. Just two feet of water can carry a vehicle away. If you see running water, “Turn Around. Don’t Drown,” the site advises. In southeastern Portland, 100 families were evacuated from an apartment complex because of flooding. Towns were evacuated in Oregon and Washington. The Red Cross had four shelters open in the two states on Tuesday and was supporting a fifth. If you live in a flood-prone area, you should prepare for a quick evacuation. Ready.gov suggests you make an emergency plan with contact information and directions on where to evacuate. Also build an emergency kit and consider flood insurance. Tornadoes An EF1 tornado with maximum wind speed of 104 mph touched down on December 10 in Battle Ground, Wash., according to weather.com. Two stores and 36 homes were damaged in the southwest Washington city. Hydrologist Andy Bryant told the Associated Press that the area including southwest Washington and northwest Oregon typically gets one tornado per year. Tornadoes have been seen in all 50 states. To prepare for one, ready.gov recommends making a family communication plan and building an emergency kit. If a tornado is imminent, take shelter. Landslides [caption id="attachment_19692" align="alignright" width="300"]mudslide - The Weather Network - atmospheric river via The Weather Network[/caption] Some trucks were stranded for more than 24 hours and other vehicles made hazardous trips over unmarked roads after a landslide blocked the northbound side of Interstate 5 about 26 miles north of Portland, Oregon, in Washington. An Associated Press story described how Diane Smith, who lives in Washington, was directed off the freeway after sitting for three hours. She ended up on a steep, winding road without guardrails. She told the Associated Press she was scared and her ears were popping and she wasn’t sure she was even heading the right way (her grandson thought it was a great adventure). At least she had enough fuel to make the trip. Ready.gov recommends you keep a car’s gas tank above half full and keep the car in good condition. Also, make a car emergency kit with food, water, spare clothes and gear for the car. Such a kit would have been useful for those who ended up in a shelter for stranded motorists near the landslide site. Power outages More than 100,000 customers lost power in Washington and Oregon during the week, some for two days. Ready.gov recommends you have an emergency kit with flashlight and batteries and an alternative charging method for any device that needs power. If you use a power-dependent medical device, have a backup plan and tell your local utility so it can prioritize you. Also, if you know about the possibility of a power outage beforehand, buy ice or freeze water-filled plastic containers to keep food cold. An unopened fridge will keep food cold for about 4 hours and a partially-full, unopened freezer for 24 hours. The Food and Drug Administration says to throw away any perishable food left at more than 40 degrees for more than two hours. Disaster_Blog_Banner - atmospheric river
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