Not as bad as 1996, but a strong reminder
Heavy rains that began overnight Tuesday and poured steadily on Wednesday triggered floods throughout western Oregon on Thursday, with high water pouring over roads throughout Benton County and soggy ground helping to create landslides, downed trees and other weather mayhem.
The winds calmed and the rains eased by Thursday night, but forecasters said that more rain and even stronger winds could be on the way, although intermittently, through the middle of next week.
Area schools and universities were taking no chances, though: Oregon State University’s Corvallis campus will be closed today, as will schools in the Corvallis School District and Alsea. Philomath schools will start two hours late.
The Marys River near Philomath crested on Thursday evening and was expected to fall below flood stage by 10 p.m. today, the National Weather Service said, but it still was causing trouble – as witnessed by the closure of Highway 99W in south Corvallis on Thursday night. At press time, the highway still was closed.
The Willamette River was expected to rise above flood stage at about 1 p.m. Friday, the Weather Service said, and is expected to crest at about 4 p.m. Friday. The forecast was for some flooding of low-lying agricultural land east and south of Corvallis.
Elsewhere in Benton County, the Weather Service said flooding was expected on the Alsea River near Tidewater, where the river was not expected to fall below flood stage until Saturday morning.
Soggy ground was blamed for landslides on Vineyard Mountain that prompted authorities to close Rosewood Drive. An evacuation center was established at Crescent Valley High School.
The forecast calls for up to an inch of additional rain today – but that wouldn’t even come close to a Wednesday rainfall that rewrote the area’s weather records. In the 24 hours ending at 8 a.m. Thursday, 4.02 inches of rain fell at Hyslop Farm outside of Corvallis – easily breaking the previous record for Jan. 19, 2.25 inches, a mark set in 1911.
In fact, Wednesday went into the record books as the third-rainiest day in 101 years, said Kathie Dello of the Oregon Climate Service at OSU. The only other days that saw more than 4 inches of rain in 24 hours were Nov. 19, 1996, when 4.45 inches fell, triggering massive flooding that cut off access to south Corvallis for several days, and Jan. 28, 1965, when 4.28 inches fell.
The effect of the rain was most evident at the Marys River. It reached 21.41 feet Thursday morning, breaking the old record of 20.9 feet, and flooded parts of Corvallis and Philomath. Dello said she wasn’t sure when the old record was set, but thought it was either 2005 or 1996.
Several roads were closed in the Philomath area because of high water spilling out of the Marys, including Chapel Drive and 13th Street. Sections of Greenberry and Bellfountain roads were also closed, and numerous other rural roads around the county had areas of high water.
Coast Range communities were among the first to feel the storm’s punch: Communities on the range were isolated by power failures that began earlier in the week, when heavy, wet snow snapped branches into power lines.
Kathi Downing, who lives in Nashville and writes a column about the Coast Range for the Gazette-Times, said that electricity was out Tuesday night for hours, then from 6:30 a.m. Wednesday to 1:30 a.m. Thursday.
“We had downed branches all over the place,” she said. Along with the electrical outages, phone service also went down, cutting residents off from communications.
“We don’t get cell service out here,” she said. “That’s country life.”
The Alsea School District closed schools and its playing fields and some buildings were flooded. Power outages also prompted closure of the Eddyville Charter School and the Blodgett Elementary School.
Power also was out for a time in northeast Corvallis on Thursday, when an area around Cheldelin Middle School suffered flooding.
Floodwaters in that area were receding Thursday night, leaving Corvallis officials most worried about the continued closure of Highway 99W in South Corvallis – a closure that brought back memories of the 1996 flood.
But Roger Irvin, the Benton County director of public works, said county officials believed the worst of the flooding might be over.
“At this point we’re not expecting any significant increases from what we have now,” Irvin said.