Relentless rain triggers landslides; more rain and risk on the way

Days of heavy rain in Western Washington has communities on high alert. Storms have already triggered small landslides, and geologists say conditions are ripe for the next storm coming Tuesday to spur additional slides.

We might be used the rain here, but people agree it’s been a relentless start to 2021.

“Oh, it’s getting a little demoralizing and we’re going to have a lot more of it,” said Bob McNulty, who lives in Kirkland.

“It has been crazy, I mean — just like lakes. I walk the park and there isn’t grass, it’s all water,” said Kelly Gunnell, another Kirkland resident.

Geologists say the ground in western Washington is saturated, and another strong system will hit western Washington on Tuesday afternoon.

“You can think of it as the sponge has now been filled — and do we get the hammer on top of it, in terms of a big rainfall,” said David Montgomery, a University of Washington professor of geomorphology (the study of the Earth’s surface).

The storms have already triggered multiple small slides.

Sounder North service is canceled through Wednesday because of a landslide between King Street Station and Edmonds Station.

Chopper 7 flew overhead on Monday as crews in heavy machinery worked to clear mud around the tracks.

The City of Kirkland is monitoring slide-prone areas like Holmes Point Drive, and is also working to fight flooding.

“We have crews out right now,” said Ray Steiger, superintendent of operations with Kirkland Public Works. “We’re just trying to keep creeks clean and storm drains clean,” he said.

The city has sand piles and bags free for residents to fill at both the Public Works parking lot and at the North Kirkland Community Center.

“This is about a quarter of what we had in October,” Steiger said. Kirkland ran out of sand bags over the weekend but replenished the supply on Monday.

The impact of the storms is being felt all over Washington.

On the coast in Ocean City, SR 109 is flooded and closed.

In addition, four separate floods have shut down a seven-mile stretch of SR 112 in Clallam County.

Experts say with so many variables, where exactly the next slide will hit is almost impossible to predict, but more rain will definitely bring more risk.

“This is the setup for keeping your eyes open,” Montgomery said. He says the first thing you should do is check to see if you’re in a slide risk area.

King County and Seattle both have landside hazard or landslide prone maps.

If you are in a risk zone, especially with more rain on the way, know the signs that could be an indicator of a landslide.

“Be aware of changes that are happening. Noises, changes in trees. Trees changing their pitch or angle,” Montgomery said.

Fresh cracks in your foundation or in the pavement may be another warning sign.

“Roads are a great indicator because they’re rigid and crack when the ground moves beneath them,” Montgomery said.

He says homeowners who are really concerned should have their risk assessed by a consulting geologist, and all homebuyers should check the slide hazard maps to see if the house is in a risk area.