In preparation for what may be the largest Skagit River flood since 2006, some upriver communities began voluntary evacuations Tuesday.
The river was expected to reach flood stage near Concrete on Tuesday night, and high water is forecast to make its way through the Skagit Valley on Wednesday and Thursday.
Late Tuesday, Hamilton Mayor Joan Cromley asked residents to begin evacuating, the Cape Horn community started voluntary evacuations, and the Lyman Town Council called off its 7 p.m. meeting.
Lyman Public Works Operator Matt Jennings said the town hadn't seen flood water as of 4 p.m. Tuesday, but river levels had risen noticeably throughout the day.
Town staff were clearing storm drains to help prevent flooding on the streets, and offered sandbags to the neighboring town of Hamilton, Jennings said.
Cromley said the river hadn't left its banks in Hamilton as of 4 p.m. Tuesday, and the town council decided to keep its 7 p.m. meeting time in order to give residents at the meeting an update of the situation.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Northwest River Forecast Center expects the river to crest at 37.44 feet in Concrete about 10 a.m. Wednesday, and at about 33.49 feet in Mount Vernon early Thursday.
Flood level is 28 feet.
"We're probably looking at at least water in town. The question just is how much Mother Nature is going to dump on us," Cromley said.
Skagit County Emergency Operations Center spokesman Given Kutz said the Skagit River last went over 37 feet in Concrete when it reached 39.79 feet Nov. 6, 2006.
The river reached 42.19 feet in Concrete on Oct. 21, 2003.
"Right now it's kind of a fluid situation. Whether we get there (to 37 feet at Concrete) or not kind of depends on the Sauk River ... where it comes in at Concrete because most of the rain is south of the Skagit right now," he said.
He said Skagit 911 had a meeting at 5 p.m. Tuesday to discuss response procedures through the week.
According to a fax from the Skagit County Board of Commissioners, the county declared an emergency as of 1 p.m. Tuesday.
The commissioners passed an emergency resolution that authorized county departments to assign personnel and funding as needed to "help prevent further damage to property and government infrastructure."
Mount Vernon Public Works Director Esco Bell said the city is gearing up to put stop logs into the Skagit River floodwall downtown.
Some of the temporary bracing is already in place from the last flood in November. This will be the second time the city has used stop logs since the floodwall has been in place.
"We've got a major flood predicted for Thursday morning ... about half a foot below the openings of the downtown floodwall," he said. "There's no sense in cutting it that close when we've got something we can deploy as easily as we can."
The floodwall in downtown Mount Vernon has been in place for two flood seasons. It has changed the way the city responds to flood risks.
"It is so much easier than what we did before," Bell said. "On this kind of a flood what we would be working on now would be whether to pull the trigger to mobilize about up to 2,000 volunteers, 150,000 sandbags and about 12 hours of hard work."
Instead, a team of city staff will head out this morning to put stop logs in place.