Ice storm brings power outage, flooding risk to Western Washington

Dec 22, 2022, 7:26 PM | Updated: Dec 23, 2022, 8:25 am
Ice storm...
Expect freezing rain overnight to bring down branches and cause power outages. (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

First it was snow, then dangerously cold temperatures — and now an ice storm is the next weather hurdle to hit the Puget Sound region.

The heavy freezing rain will occur as temperatures start to rise and melt the snow; this combination could see tree limbs toppling onto power lines. That has local governments and emergency management agencies preparing for widespread power outages.

“With this storm that’s coming in, there’s the potential for accretion of ice on things like tree limbs and power lines, so we’re really concerned about power outages,” said King County Emergency Management Director Brendan McCluskey.

Now ‘freezing rain’ until Friday afternoon

Puget Sound Energy and Seattle City Light told KIRO Newsradio that despite the holiday week, they are fully staffed up and have crews ready to deploy. PSE crews are stationed at different locations around the region.

“We’re prepared — we hope for the best and prepare for the worst,” said Gerald Tracy, a spokesman for PSE. “We always have hundreds of crews ready at all times.”

Now ‘freezing rain’ until Friday afternoon

Still, McCluskey said it is likely that some people may go overnight without electricity. He advises residents to have alternative sources of heat and light on-hand, as well as plenty of non-perishable food and water.

“We like people to be ‘two weeks ready’ — that ties to the potential for the earthquake, the Big One,” he said. “If you’re two weeks ready for that earthquake, you’re also ready for those relatively minor emergencies like power outages, even if they go overnight.”

If you do not have a way to heat your home and you lose electricity, there are places you can seek shelter. The warming centers that have been set up for people who are homeless during these dangerously cold temperatures can also be used by people who are without a source of power and heat.

“If the power is out at home and they’re looking for a place to warm up, then they can go to one of those locations,” said Mike Halliday, public information specialist with Pierce County Emergency Management.

PCEM and KCEM are ready to open several of these shelters if the need arises. Cities around the region, as well as the King County Regional Homelessness Authority, have already opened up warming centers.

Besides power outages, flooding is also a major concern. Going into the weekend, temperatures will warm up dramatically, which will rapidly melt the snow. Combine that with the ice storm and you have a recipe for floods.

PCEM and KCEM are sending out teams to monitor the rivers that have been historic trouble spots.

“We’ve had several floods over the last several years in Pierce County, and so we, along with our Public Works partners, already know some of the general areas that tend to flood quickly or flood early,” Halliday said.

McCluskey said several rivers in the eastern part of King County have flooded in the past.

“The Tolt River is a big one, the Snoqualmie River, but also the Cedar River, the Green River, the White River, they can all be trouble spots,” he said.

He recommends that anyone living in a floodplain have a bag ready to go, just in case they are told to evacuate.

“Really any low-lying area and the river valleys” are at risk, he said.

Even in cities sitting away from rivers, flooding can be a problem; McCluskey is worried about urban flooding.

“It’s flooding that happens mostly in city areas or built-up areas where flooding can cross the roadway or build up because storm drains are blocked, and you can’t see the roadway, so you’re really not sure how deep it may be.”

I-90 reopens near North Bend

If you encounter this type of flooding from your car, never drive through it — it may be deeper than you think and you could get stuck. Find an alternate pathway and alert law enforcement to the flood.

Sign up for emergency alerts with your county’s emergency management department so you can stay in-the-know on locations of warming centers, warnings of hazards, and recommendations for how to stay safe.

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Ice storm brings power outage, flooding risk to Western Washington