Before the wettest weather of the year arrives, Monday will mark the start of Skagit County’s annual Flood Awareness Week.
The Skagit County Board of Commissioners signed a proclamation Oct. 4 declaring Oct. 11-15 flood week for the county, which is home to the largest river draining into Puget Sound.
“Skagit Valley is one of the most picturesque and fertile watersheds in Washington,” Skagit County Board of Commissioners Chair Lisa Janicki said in a news release. “But rivers flood. Each year, it’s important we connect with the community and relevant statewide partners to prepare for the upcoming flood season.”
Most Skagit River flooding occurs between October and March.
Commissioner Ron Wesen said Flood Awareness Week helps the community “get prepared for the flood-fight ahead” and earns local National Flood Insurance Program policyholders a 25% discount through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Flood stage on the Skagit River is 28 feet. River levels are monitored by the U.S. Geological Survey at various sites.
For now, the river is safely within its banks. Over the past week, the river has remained under 19 feet near Concrete and under 17 feet in Mount Vernon, according to USGS data compiled by NOAA’s Northwest River Forecast Center.
The Skagit River most recently flooded in 2020, 2017, 2015 and 2014, according to USGS data compiled by the National Weather Service. The most recent major floods occurred in 2006, 2003, 1995 and 1990.
While serious floods requiring evacuations don’t happen often, emergency preparedness is key to staying safe when they do.
“Now is the time to think through your family’s emergency preparedness plans,” Commissioner Peter Browning said. “Do you have an emergency kit and go-bag ready? Do you have a plan for where you’ll go if you need to leave your home? ... All of these things are important to figure out ahead of time.”
According to the annual Flood Awareness Week pamphlet produced by Skagit County, more than 30,000 people live in the river’s 100-year floodplain, where a major flood has a 1% chance of occurring each year.
The last major flood that caused catastrophic damage — categorized as Phase 1 flooding — occurred in 2006.
The last Phase 2 flooding occurred in 1975. Phase 3 flooding, which may inundate lowlands and cover roads, occurs more often, including most recently in February 2020.
Even during low-level Phase 3 flooding, people should avoid walking and driving through floodwaters, according to the pamphlet. A car can be carried by 2 feet of water, and a person can be knocked down by as little as 6 inches of moving water.
With that in mind, and the potential for roads along routes to grocery stores and hospitals to become flooded, flooding is something all residents should think about, even if their own home isn’t at risk of inundation, according to Skagit County.
Flood Awareness Week events and information are open and available to all.
Skagit County spokesperson Laura Han said because of the pandemic, however, in-person sandbagging that’s a usual staple of Flood Awareness Week will not occur again this year. Instead, the county is organizing and promoting digital events with partners including the National Weather Service and Army Corps of Engineers.
The digital offerings include a sandbagging training video that will be distributed to local schools, a flood awareness webinar with the Skagit County Department of Emergency Management at 6 p.m. Wednesday, and a National Weather Service webinar at 6 p.m. Thursday. A full list of events will be announced Monday.
Additional information about flooding risks and preparation tips can be found at skagitcounty.net/flood.