Trooper's photo of a mudslide at Lake Samish
A photo taken by Trooper Rocky Oliphant showing mudslide damage at milepost 245 on Interstate 5

Mud­slides and washouts pre­cip­i­tat­ed by tor­ren­tial rain­fall have made high­ways on both sides of the Unit­ed States — Cana­da bor­der impass­able, strand­ing trav­el­ers and fur­ther dis­rupt­ing com­merce just days before the onset of the hol­i­day season.

On the U.S. side, some of the worst flood­ing and road impacts were in low-lying parts of What­com and Skag­it coun­ties, which are locat­ed between Seat­tle and Van­cou­ver, British Colum­bia in the state’s north­west­ern corner.

As of just after dusk on Mon­day, Novem­ber 15th, Inter­state 5 was closed in both direc­tions between Belling­ham and Mount Ver­non at Lake Samish, with State Route 511 and State Route 9 also report­ed to be impass­able. No detour routes are avail­able, which means dri­vers’ only option is to turn around.

In a bul­letin, WSDOT advised:

Both direc­tions of I‑5 between North Lake Samish Dri­ve (mile­post 247) and Nulle Road (mile­post 245) in south What­com Coun­ty will be closed overnight due to water over the road and debris slides. No detour routes will be in place for these closures.

Tomor­row morn­ing, WSDOT will eval­u­ate the hill­side along north­bound I‑5 to deter­mine the next steps. The issues on south­bound I‑5 are relat­ed to water over the road­way 6–8 inch­es deep, which WSDOT will work to address dur­ing the day­light hours tomor­row. Trav­el­ers should not attempt to go around the clo­sures for everyone’s safety.

What’s next:

There are mul­ti­ple oth­er high­way clo­sures through­out What­com and Skag­it coun­ties due to flood­ing and slides. 

Our crews will con­tin­ue to mon­i­tor and assess con­di­tions and will reopen when it is safe to do so. 

Find infor­ma­tion about local road clo­sures, vis­it Pub­lic Works | What­com Coun­ty, WA — Offi­cial Web­site and Skag­it Coun­ty Pub­lic Works Road Closures.

The Nation­al Weath­er Ser­vice pro­vides updat­ed weath­er alerts, includ­ing infor­ma­tion about flooding. 

What dri­vers should do in flood­ed areas:

  • If you don’t need to be out on the roads, please stay home at the request of local jurisdictions.
  • “Turn around, don’t drown.” Do not dri­ve through stand­ing water on the road­way. Not only is it dif­fi­cult to tell the con­di­tion of the road is under­neath the water, it only takes 6 inch­es of water on the road­way for vehi­cles to stall and 12 inch­es of water to car­ry a vehi­cle off the roadway.
  • Observe all “Road Closed” signs — they are put in place for your safety.
  • Be alert. WSDOT crews, pub­lic works, emer­gency respon­ders and util­i­ty crews are work­ing to clear and reopen roads as quick­ly and safe­ly as possible. 

The City of Belling­ham post­ed drone footage of the flood­ing in Belling­ham.

Here’s a KING5 report on the dam­age in What­com Coun­ty.

On the Cana­di­an side, mud­slides and washouts have destroyed greater Van­cou­ver’s road links with the rest of Cana­da and forced the Trans­Moun­tain pipeline and its expan­sion project to shut down.

Parts of the province have seen up to 230 mil­lime­tres of rain in just 48 hours, and rain­fall, snow­fall, win­ter storm and wind warn­ings remain in effect across most of south­ern B.C. Envi­ron­ment Cana­da is fore­cast­ing anoth­er 30 mil­lime­tres for areas that have been hit the hard­est by the relent­less rain that began on Sat­ur­day, fol­lowed by winds gust­ing up to 90 kilo­me­tres an hour.

The British Colum­bia Min­istry of Trans­porta­tion flew over the washout at Tank Hill near Lyt­ton and Nicomen, and post­ed pho­tos of the ruined high­way on Twit­ter. It will like­ly take months to repair this stretch of the Tran­sCana­da Highway.

If the name Lyt­ton sounds famil­iar, it’s prob­a­bly because that’s the same British Colum­bia town that was destroyed by a rag­ing fire only a few months ago.

Also impass­able is High­way 1, one of the main routes east of Vancouver.

“Dri­vers are advised that High­way 1 in the Fras­er Val­ley will be closed in both direc­tions as of 7 PM Mon­day, Novem­ber 15th,” provin­cial offi­cials said in a state­ment. “The high­way clo­sure is between High­way 11 and No. 3 Road, and is nec­es­sary due to the flood warn­ing on the Sumas River.”

The por­tion of High­way 5 known as the Coqui­hal­la High­way is impass­able too, with the south­bound lanes hav­ing sim­ply dis­ap­peared in one spot. The high­way is closed in both direc­tions between Mer­ritt and Hope. As of nine hours ago, all res­i­dents of Mer­ritt are under an evac­u­a­tion order due to the flood­ing.

Only a few weeks ago, the city was under an evac­u­a­tion alert due to wild­fires.

High­way 8, too, is closed in both direc­tions. BC Min­istry of Trans­porta­tion says that there is flood­ing between Por­cu­pine Ridge Rd and Petit Creek Road for 33.5 km (9 kilo­me­ters east of Spences Bridge to 17 kilo­me­ters west of Merritt).

There’s a gallery on Flickr of road dam­age across British Colum­bia.

If you’re won­der­ing if there are any major roads that haven’t been affect­ed by the flood­ing, the answer is basi­cal­ly no. This is a real­ly bad time to trav­el and the author­i­ties are ask­ing that peo­ple just stay home or stay put for now.

British Columbia highway closures
British Colum­bia high­way clo­sures (Still from a Glob­al Nation­al News broadcast)

For those strand­ed, Cana­di­an Forces have been pro­vid­ing aer­i­al res­cues.

More rain is expect­ed overnight tonight. After that, Cas­ca­dia should get a break from the atmos­pher­ic riv­er that’s been dump­ing water on the PNW for most of the last few days. But it will take a long time to repair some of the dam­age men­tioned in this post, espe­cial­ly up in British Columbia.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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