OKANOGAN — Hot weather and faster-than-normal snowmelt prompted the National Weather Service to issue a flood watch on the Okanogan River this week.
And if the weather stays hot, as forecast, the river is expected to flood between Tonasket and Oroville by Thursday or Friday, and could threaten homes between Tonasket and Malott by the weekend, said Scott Miller, Okanogan County’s emergency manager.
“It’s going up about a foot a day, so if it continues at that pace, we’ll be at 17.53 feet” by the weekend, Miller said.
The river area experiences moderate flooding at 17 feet, and major flooding at 18 feet, he said.
The county is offering free sandbags and sand that people who live in flood-prone areas on the Okanogan River are encouraged to fill and take home, he said.
A couple weeks ago, forecasters predicted a slow and steady snowmelt. But with high temperatures expected in the mid- to high-80s all week, that snow and steady snowmelt has turned to a fast and furious one, he said. Similar temperatures are forecast for the Wenatchee area.
Katherine Rowden, hydrologist for the National Weather Service in Spokane, said other rivers in North Central Washington will also rise quickly, particularly the Stehekin River, but also the Wenatchee, Methow, Entiat and Similkameen rivers.
Still, she said, without rain, those rivers aren’t likely to flood because they don’t get runoff from the huge watershed in Canada that the Okanogan River gets.
“The only other one we expect will be markedly high is the Stehekin,” she said. That river is forecast to rise to 22.4 feet, and flood stage is 24 feet, she said.
The forecast could change, she said, particularly if scattered thunderstorms turn into significant rainstorms. “If we had a bunch of rain, it would be really problematic,” she said, adding, “People should check the forecast every day.”
That’s particularly true for people who live along the Okanogan River.
“We have a significant concern at this point,” Miller said. “We are fully expecting the areas between Oroville and Tonasket to flood,” he said, but those areas are generally pastureland, with no structures threatened.
If the river goes higher than 17.5 feet, however, levies and dikes in the Okanogan Valley, and a number of homes from Tonasket to Malott will be in danger, he said.
K.C. Mehaffey: 997-2512