Officials ‘Cautiously Optimistic’ at Cowlitz River in Randle

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The water of the Cowlitz River was expected to reach a height of 22.43 feet in Randle by mid-afternoon on Friday. At approximately 7 a.m. on Friday, the river sat at 19.76 feet. 

According to Randle Fire Chief Jeff Jaques, the projected height of the water was beginning to taper off near the bottom of the major flood range at around 9 a.m.

“It had been going up a tenth of a foot, maybe a little bit more, every 15 minutes,” Jaques said. “Now, it’s slowed down to about five-hundredths of a foot. So far, it’s slowed down, whether it stays there or not, who knows.” 

Friday’s reality on the ground represented a slight decrease from earlier forecasts, which predicted the water could rise to more than 23 feet, well into major flooding. 

“Doppler radar and automated rain gauges indicated another 1 to 2 inches of rain in the foothills and Cascades up to a half inch of rain in the lowlands overnight,” the National Weather Service posted Friday morning. “Rain will come to an end this morning but rivers will remain high. Rain will increase late today and continue into early Saturday but amounts are not expected to hydrologically significant.”

Andy Caldwell, deputy director at Lewis County Emergency Management, said that Cowlitz River flooding has caused some small road closures in the area. Only Peters Rd. and State Route 131 were shut down as of this morning, with Washington State Department of Transportation and Jacques not anticipating any closure of Highway 12. 

Outside of the two aforementioned roadways, Jaques mentioned there were others with water covering them, but are “still passable.” He also noted that only local roads are affected. 

“Just avoid those areas,” Jaques said. “All the locals know the way to get around them, so, it’s nothing that’s affecting traffic that’s just traveling through, it’s just the backroads that the locals use.”

Tony Dalmeny of WSDOT was working in the area at around 8:45 a.m., measuring water levels off Highway 12. He echoed the statement of Chief Jacques regarding any potential closure of the highway. 

“(The water) keeps rising,” Dalmeny said. “But I think we might be able to escape a bullet and not have to shut (Highway 12 ) down. Fingers crossed.” 

He added that tracking the safety of Highway 12 was WSDOT’s “main focus.”

As of Feb. 7 at 11:45 a.m., the height of the Cowlitz in Randle is in a moderate flooding stage at 20.65 ft. A major flooding stage is still projected for Friday afternoon, however, the height anticipated has dropped from 22.43 feet to 22.03 feet. 

By Midday Sunday, the water is projected to drop to around 14 feet with a flow of just over 12. 

Caldwell said his department has been tracking the status of the water levels since Thursday. Like Jacques and Dalmeny, he feels the situation won’t be as bad as initially thought. 

 “We’re cautiously optimistic,” Caldwell said. “The numbers are indicating a lower trajectory, but again, cautiously optimistic.” 

Caldwell also encourages residents of Lewis County to register for Lewis County Alert to be notified of any updates either via text or voice message. Residents can sign-up by following the link at the bottom of Lewis County’s website for up to the moment updates. 

While Randle is experiencing flooding, the rest of East Lewis County is on a winter storm warning starting Friday afternoon.

Heavy snow — including 10 to 20 inches of accumulation — is predicted for areas above 3,000 feet in elevation. 

The National Weather Service is also warning of an increased landslide risk for areas in Western Washington below 5,000 feet in elevation due to soil saturation from recent rain. 

While minor flooding was predicted on the Cowlitz River below Mayfield Dam, specifically at Toledo, the river stayed just below minor flood stage through Friday. Mayfield Dam was releasing extra water due to predictions for flooding upstream. 

As of this morning, the Newaukum River at Chehalis was cresting in the minor flood level, at about a foot above flood stage. 

The Skookumchuck River at Bucoda is expected to have some minor flooding, with the waters cresting just above the minor flood level late Friday. 

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