South Whidbey Record


Wettest winter since 1988 reported on Possession Point

South Whidbey Record Editor
February 3, 2013 · Updated 10:47 AM

Midge Billig finds another 2 inches of rain in the gauge she has been checking since 1988. Besides a record 50.09 inches in 2012, January had produced 4.16 inches of rain as of Wednesday, and two more wet days followed. “At the rate we’re going we may pass it this year,” she said of the 2012 record. / Jim Larsen / The Record

South Whidbey’s high bluffs are saturated with water due to the extremely wet year we just experienced.

That, no doubt, contributes to landslides such as the one that occurred Wednesday on the east side of Possession Point, destroying one summer home and damaging another.

On the other side of Possession Point, overlooking Cultus Bay, lives Midge Billig, 88, a gardening buff who’s been keeping a close eye on her rain gauge since moving to her home in 1988.

She’s recorded the rainfall ever since, compiling annual totals. She was startled when she added up the 2012 numbers and came up with a figure of 50.09 inches for the year.

“We ought to brag about 50 inches!” the lively widow said with a laugh. She and her late husband, Charles, moved to Whidbey after owning a floral business in Michigan for 37 years. Her sister, Virginia Mayer, lives at Sunlight Beach and that’s what drew them to the area.

Billig chuckles as she recalled what the real estate company that sold them the house told them.

“They had a map that showed 11 inches on one side of the line and 13 inches on the other. It never occurred to us to doubt their word,” she said.

Such optimistic rain projections never held true. In 1988, the first year Billig recorded in its entirety, the rain gauge on her front porch recorded 21.3 inches of the wet stuff.

It topped the 20s in 1996 at 31.5 inches, then hit 43.15 inches in 1995. Rainfall stayed in the 20s and low 30s until 2006, when a new trend of more rainfall started. The last three years have been particularly high, with 37.7 inches in 2010, 38.84 in 2011, and topping off at 50.09 in 2012.

Admitting she’s no scientist, Billig said it seems logical the increasing rainfall is due to climate change.

“But it could be a lot worse,” she said, referring to the storms and tornadoes presently happening back east. “This summer we’ll save a lot of water.”

The National Weather Service’s Seattle office concurs there were some high rainfall totals in 2012. “Overall it was a wet year,” states its annual report. “In December Quillayute on the north coast had already accumulated 115 inches, and both SeaTac and Olympia were 10 inches above normal.”

Meanwhile, land slides keep occurring in Island County.

Bill Oakes, director of Island County Public Works, said because last week’s Possession slide occurred on private property and no public assets are under threat or were damaged, the county will not be providing clean up assistance.

The department hasn’t escaped the chore entirely, however. In fact, road crews have been quite busy over the past month dealing with smaller landslides over county roads.

“We’ve cleared probably a dozen slides over the past couple weeks,” Oakes said.

The combination of ground thawing and heavy water saturation make this the season for landslides. Whidbey and Camano islands are particularly susceptible due to their light, sandy soils.

Oakes said he’s been contacted by worried residents who want to know what they can do to prevent or predict when slides will occur but there is little he can tell them.

“You can’t predict them,” he said. “They are like earthquakes ... we just respond.”

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