Homes, roads and businesses all over Whidbey Island went under water this week as extremely high tides and weather conditions produced intense flooding across the Puget Sound region.
According to South Whidbey Fire/EMS Deputy Chief Terry Ney, the island-wide floods were brought about by a perfect storm of conditions. First, the highest tides of the year, known as king tides, made an appearance. Under normal conditions, king tides may already reach up to 12.5 feet or higher, but low barometric pressure in the area caused the tides to rise an additional 1.3 feet, Ney said.
The king tides were exacerbated by rain and snow melt. The week before Christmas, North Whidbey got about 6.5 inches of snow and the South End received around 4 inches, followed by rainfall island-wide.
Waterfront parks in Oak Harbor were inundated with floodwaters, prompting the city to close the floating dock at Flintstone Park and the lagoon at Windjammer Park. High tides pushed driftwood and other debris onto park trails and beaches and into the marina. Parks staff temporarily closed the Rotary Memorial Bridge and a nearby section of pathway at Windjammer Park, according to Parks and Recreation Director Brian Smith.
Smith added that the Oak Harbor marina is open for business and sustained no storm damage.
Some Front Street buildings were hit hard in Coupeville. Von Summers, who owns a rental property on Front Street, said that while there was no water intrusion in the lowermost unit, several drift logs did breach the protective skirting below the lower level, which could potentially cause damage.
Nearby Kingfisher Bookstore’s lower level took on six inches on Tuesday, according to the shop’s Instagram page. Community members assisted with efforts to pump out water, salvage books and place sandbags, but the store still faced significant loss of inventory, and the extent of the water damage to the shelves and floor is still unknown as of Thursday afternoon.
Port of Coupeville Executive Director Chris Michalopoulos said the basement at 24 Front Street flooded, but there was no major damage. He also said that because of the high tides and floodwaters, the gangway off the wharf was higher than the wharf itself for the first time in more than 40 years.
In Greenbank on Tuesday, Central Whidbey Island Fire and Rescue firefighters had to rescue a woman from her Dines Point home in a dinghy, according to the department’s Facebook page. The woman was not injured, but the flood had marooned her in her house; the water was waist deep at her doorstep and deeper than five feet in other places. One firefighter even reported not being able to touch the ground after paddleboarding to one house.
At least five houses were affected, all but two of which were unoccupied, the department reported.
On the South End, Ney reported that the fire department received a number of flood-related calls, mostly requests to pump water out of houses. Unfortunately, the fire department is not equipped to do this, he said; dirty sea water would destroy the department’s expensive pumps meant to carry water to fires.
The department also received a call about a driver who had driven a car deep into flood waters on Shoreview Drive in Freeland. By the time firefighters arrived to assist the driver, however, a Nichols Brothers Boat Builders employee had already helped him to dry land.
Ney said the water came up to the car’s windows and caused major damage to the engine. If standing water on a road is deep enough that painted white or yellow lines on the road are not visible, it means the water is too deep to drive through, he cautioned.
South Whidbey firefighters also retrieved 14 kayaks and paddleboards that had floated off a beach and into the Saratoga Passage on the high tidewaters. A Coast Guard helicopter was on the scene to help locate the scattered vessels, as the incident was initially mistakenly reported as a plane crash. Ney said the low-stakes operation ended up being a helpful training exercise for both agencies.
Port of South Whidbey interim Harbormaster Kathy Myers said the South Whidbey boat launch was clogged with driftwood, and the parking lot and Phil Simon Park were both partially flooded. The flood also caused a small sinkhole at the head of the wharf, but the marina is now open for business.