Tag Archives: flood

Fall storms block trails

Three severe fall storms have been devastating to some of the Middle Fork trails. This update summarizes what is known as of January 12, 2016. Updates will be added as news trickles in.

Little Si
No reports of problems in recent trip reports

Mount Si
A hiker on the day of the most recent storm reported no serious blowdown

Teneriffe Falls / Peak
On the WTA site Stuke Sowle posted a January 8 grand tour trip report including Teneriffe falls and peak, the CCC plateau, Mailbox Peak, and Granite Creek trail.

Mailbox Peak
About two dozen trees are down across the new trail, but deep snow obscures the trail higher up. There are no reported trees down on the old trail. The DNR has cleared trees blocking access to the parking lot. Some recent storms have left slippery snow on the access road to the parking lot so on those days the gate is left locked to prevent cars from sliding down the relatively steep slope.

Granite Creek – This trail has a large number of trees down and is impassible beyond the Granite Creek bridge. As of December 26 a trail has been broken in deep snow as far as the bridge.

Granite Creek blowdown near the trailhead

Granite Creek blowdown near the trailhead

Blowdown on the Granite Creek trail beyond the bridge. Photo by Kevin Smythe

Blowdown on the Granite Creek trail beyond the bridge. Photo by Kevin Smythe

December 7 seekingultra report: Granite Lakes trail windstorm destruction“The Granite Lakes trail off of the Middle Fork Snoqualmie road has been obliterated by blowdown after the bridge crossing Granite Creek. There are 100+ blowdowns in the 1/4-mile past the bridge and the 100 yards ahead we could see when we stopped appeared to be more of the same.

December 19 WTA report: Thompson Lake, Granite Lakes Trail“After the second bridge is when the trail starts to become difficult to navigate. We went up and over fallen trees for about 30-40 minutes with NO relief and none that looked like it was coming. Ultimately it became too much and a little unsafe for the dogs to navigate.”
Deep snow on the Granite Creek bridge

Deep snow on the Granite Creek bridge

Sitka Spruce – Minor blowdown but still passable. The log over the small creek near the concrete bridge is partially washed out. Whitebark@nwhikers.net reports that he cleared some of the blowdown on December 29.

Partially washed out Sitka Spruce creek bridge

Partially washed out Sitka Spruce creek bridge

Blowdown on the Sitka Spruce trail

Blowdown on the Sitka Spruce trail

Pratt River – There are 27 trees down in the first .6 miles to the Rainy Creek bridge and it is very difficult to get past some of them because of steep slopes below the trail. The root ball of two trees pulled up part of the trail about 1/4 mile in but it is still easily passed.

Pratt River trail blowdown

Pratt River trail blowdown

Pratt River trail blowdown

Pratt River trail blowdown

Pratt River trail blowdown

Pratt River trail blowdown

Rainy Creek bridge. A big tree just missed it on the far side

Rainy Creek bridge. A big tree just missed it on the far side

CCC – No recent reports. Status is unknown.

Bessemer Roadoneeyedfatman@nwhikers.net posted a Bessemer Road trip report from January 9, 2016. The Middle Fork road was icy and difficult to drive, there was some tedious blowdown on the Bessemer Road. He turned around at ~2900′.

Tedious blowdown on the Bessemer Road. Photo by peaklist@flickr

Middle Fork – There are three trees down in the first mile, two of these are difficult to cross. Beyond that is unknown but probably bad. The winds were severe in this part of the valley based on the number of trees down across the road on the other side of the river.

Recently fallen trees by the Gateway bridge

Recently fallen trees by the Gateway bridge

Blowdown on far side of Gateway bridge

Blowdown on far side of Gateway bridge

Middle Fork trail blowdown

Middle Fork trail blowdown

Middle Fork trail blowdown

Middle Fork trail blowdown


Damaged, but still usable log bridge over Burntboot Creek near Goldmyer Hot Springs. The December storm undercut the support on the far side and lowered the two big logs so they are no longer roughly level as before. The closer log has also been rotated so the flattened part no longer points up. Photo by Bill Davis.

Dingford Creek – No recent reports. Status is unknown but this part of the valley did not experience the worst winds and the trail is probably buried under snow for the winter season after the heavy snows of the Christmas week.

Taylor River The last quarter mile to the trailhead has been washed out. Park at the wide spot just past the first Taylor River bridge. The trail was apparently not hit too hard. On 12/19/2015 PataGenn at WTA reported “Snow started before the MF trailhead. 3-4″ of snow at the beginning, 7-8″ when we turned around at about 3 3/4 miles. Snow falling from the trees as it warmed up.” Photo by PataGenn.


Dutch Miller Gap – No recent reports. Status is unknown but this trail is probably buried under snow for the winter season after the heavy snows of Christmas week.

December storm extends road closure

Just as the Middle Fork road was about to be opened for the winter season another major storm blew through resulting in yet another extension of the closure. Four inches of warm rain was recorded at Valley Camp for December 8 with an additional 1.22 inches the following day. The TANW1 gage showed a double peak, first at 25,000 cfs at 6pm on December 8 and 24,000 cfs at 5:15am on December 9.

After seeing the effects, the road closure was justified as wind gusts blew down numerous trees, mostly in the first two miles of the road above the Mailbox trailhead. About seven medium sized trees blocked the road to the Dingford trailhead and these were cleared by Friday. Reports continue to come in of blowdowns on trails, but the full impact of this series of severe winter storms may not be known until spring.

After the storm on Wednesday, December 9, a geotechnical engineer inspected the slope and Champion beach and approved opening the roadway through the slide area. There is barrier in place to catch any debris that may come down. ACI is clearing the downed trees through the project area and the road may be open to the public as early as Thurday, December 17.

Atmospheric River from Cliff Mass weather blog

Atmospheric River from Cliff Mass weather blog

TANW1 Discharge

Early forecasts for this storm predicted a very dangerous crest of up to 32,100 cfs. Fortunately that did not occur or else much more damage would have been done.

Early forecasts for this storm predicted a very high crest of up to 32,100 cfs. Fortunately that did not occur or else much more damage would have been done.

Comparison of the four major storms so far in 2015. The most recent storm didn't crest quite as high but lasted longer

Comparison of the four major storms so far in 2015. The most recent storm didn’t crest quite as high but lasted longer


SW Mt Si Blvd was blocked off here and at Bendigo Blvd


Brawling Creek just above the Middle Fork river


Sitka Spruce creek trail bridge was partially washed out and submerged under murky clay-filled water


Trees down blocking the Mailbox trail parking lot


Small creek creates interesting mud flow patterns


Blowdown cleared by Island Drop


Mine Creek bridge damage


Blowdown by Mine Creek


Temporary rock buttress supporting Champion Beach road cut


Overview of area by Champion Beach that has been a concern for earth movements


Area above temporary rock buttress that protects the road against minor mud and clay slumping


Big tree blocking road beyond Champion Beach


Slumping road cut


Partial washout of a dispersed camping site pullout. This pullout was built in 2014 as part of the paving project.


Severe bank erosion by a dispersed campsite downstream of Camp Brown. The river is aggressively migrating toward the road here with each major storm.


Further erosion of the Taylor River spur road. The river will likely flow here often now so it’s unlikely this will be repaired to a level suitable for motorized access.


Further erosion of the Taylor River spur road. The washout is deeper than it appears in this photo.


Fresh blowdown on the road to Dingford Creek from this storm. This was the major impact between the turnoff at the Taylor River and the Dingford Creek trailhead. Photo by Charles Lingel.

Before and after clearing debris from the road

Not all trees fall during the storm. The high water undercut the bank and the next big snow fall brought the tree down.

Not all trees fall during the storm. The high water undercut the bank and the next big snow fall brought the tree down.

Related News

Third 2015 high water event

A third 2015 storm caused high water flows on the Middle Fork river on November 17, the first time there have been three such significant events in a calendar year since records started in 1961. The peak flows rank this storm as the 10th highest to-date. The previous two events this year were the January 5 storm (8th highest) that closed the Middle Fork road for months, and the recent October 31 storm on Halloween that had somewhat lower flows and only caused a minor washout on the Taylor River road spur. The peak water flow of 27,300 cfs was just below the peak level of the January 5 event. Flow levels over 20,000 cfs were sustained for 10 hours.

On Thursday, two days after the storm passed, the WFLH announced that the road would be closed at least until Wednesday, November 25, 2015, an extension of 5 days from the previous closure. The closure point was moved to just beyond the Mailbox trailhead so it would be available for weekend. The concern for public safety is about some large boulders poised above the road at the new bank cut just before Champion Beach that could come down onto the road. Then on Wednesday, the closure was extended to noon Friday, December 4, including the Thanksgiving weekend. That date came and went with no opening and the most recent newsletter announced that the road will be closed indefinitely. The Mailbox trailhead will continue to be accessible.


Comparison of three 2015 high water events


Middle Fork river at Island Drop on 11/17/2015. Photo by WFLH.

This is a summary of the known after effects of this storm. Most of the trails have not yet been surveyed. All MP numbers are measured from the turn off onto the Middle Fork road.

  • The lower road below the Taylor River turnoff where paving construction has improved the culverts has not sustained significant damage and minor issues have been repaired
  • A large number of trees blew down at MP 8.5. These were cleared by late Tuesday to help get some people out that were stuck behind them. The water was at least a foot deep over the road and running with a strong current when the river crested at ~9pm Tuesday.
  • At Champion Beach (~MP 4.5) mud and boulders are threatening to come down onto the road surface. The road closure has been extended to allow the contractor to stabilize this area.

    Stabilizing the road cut by Champion Beach

  • Many trees were blown down between the Taylor “Y” and the Dingford Trailhead, some up to 3 feet in diameter. By Wednesday, November 18 these were cut out enough to let a vehicle pass although there are a few spots that require a high clearance vehicle and the road is in general rocky and full of potholes and downed limbs. Pickups and high clearance jeeps should not have trouble. A Subaru Forester made it through both with a lot of rock scraping underneath, especially at Oil Pan Creek.
    1. MP 14.5 – A small creek by a multi-trunked alder is not too hard to cross.

      Minor creek crossing by a multi-trunk alder

    2. MP 14.9 – The Garfield wash (aka Moore property) has a deeper gully on the near side. Pick your route carefully to minimize scraping.

      Garfield wash with a significantly deeper channel

    3. MP 15 – Oil Pan Creek is just beyond the Garfield wash and has a large new washout with steep banks up to two feet high. A ramp has been constructed on the right. This is the most difficult spot before reaching the Dingford trailhead.

      Washout at Oil Pan Creek. Photo by Dick Craig.

  • The spur to the Taylor River trailhead is heavily eroded in three places and is not driveable even with high clearance vehicles. Park just beyond the bridge to hike in this area and walk the additional half mile to the trailhead.

    A two foot deep channel has been scoured out of the Taylor River road just beyond the Dingford road turnoff


    The Taylor River first crossed the road here during the 10/31 storm, but the more severe 11/17 storm deepened the channels significantly

  • The Mailbox trail is a mess with lots of trees down. The old trail is blocked ~200 yards up from the kiosk. DNR is working in the Mailbox parking lot clearing trees that fell across the road.
  • There is a large amount of blow down on the Granite Lakes trail. The lower part of the trail is bad enough, but still passable. However, beyond the bridge about 3.5 miles in it is nearly impenetrable; a group of very hardy trail runners were turned back on December 5.

    Blowdown on the lower Granite Creek trail


    Massive blowdown on the Granite Creek trail beyond the bridge. “There are 100+ blowdowns in the 1/4-mile past the bridge and the 100 yards ahead we could see when we stopped appeared to be more of the same.” Photo by Kevin Smythe.

On November 18, the day after the storm, the first team of volunteers began the hard work of clearing the blowdown beyond the Dingford road turnoff as far as the Dingford Creek trailhead. Nearly 80 trees needed to be cut. The chainsaw work is hazardous on trees like this, many of which are under extreme stresses. Once the trees are on the ground and limbed, it is surprisingly hard work to toss all the limbs and debris off the road and roll or tip the sections of trunk far enough to be out of the way. Kudos to the many hours spent by these folks, which relieves the short-staffed Forest Service of having to schedule time for road work here.


Trees down at the bottom of the switchback on the road to Dingford Creek trailhead. Photo by Dick Craig.


Partially cleared blowdown on the road to the Dingford Creek trailhead. Photo by Dick Craig.

On November 25, a second team continued to clear the road beyond the Dingford gate.

Blowdown between Dingford Creek and Goldmyer


Successful clearing of several fallen trees


Clearing is not all hard work — it can be beautiful along the road as here a little before the Dingford trailhead with the sunlight streaming through mists.

On December 1, a third team of volunteers went in to clear an additional thirty trees on the gated road between Dingford and Goldmyer, now with a light covering of snow from recent cold and rainy days.

More clearing on December 1 near Goldmyer. Photo by Dick Craig.


Cleared cluster of downed trees. Photo by Dick Craig.

Downstream the combined flow of the three Snoqualmie River flows exceeded the Phase 4 flood level of 38,000 cfs.

Combined Snoqualmie River flow crests

Related News

  • 11/16/2015 Seattle Times – 65-mph wind gusts, falling trees, full rivers, mountain snow
  • 11/17/2015 National Weather Service – Flood and Wind Warning “The storm currently impacting the western Washington is delivering heavy rain over the mountains with snow levels above 7000 feet. This will drive the area rivers like the Elwha and Snoqualmie Rivers above flood stage.” and “Wind … south or southwest 25 to 40 mph with gusts near 60 mph are expected.”
  • 11/18/2015 Seattle Times – 2 killed, thousands without power as winds hit Washington state

    Wind travels across Lake Washington, buffeting the 520 floating bridge as the storm grows in strength. (Steve Ringman / The Seattle Times)

  • 11/19/2015 Save Snoqualmie Falls – A beautiful close up video of the falls at high water, although not at the peak flow of this event.

Halloween High Water

A heavy rain storm on Halloween weekend that dropped 4 1/4 inches of rain over 2 days resulted in a peak flow of 22,400 cfps on the Middle Fork river. The rain was steady without a heavy downpour at any one time and there was no snow to melt in the mountains, factors which helped avoid major damage to the road. But flows of ~20,000 cfps were sustained for 5 hours. The Taylor river was especially wild — a log jam formed just above the turn off to Dingford Creek and caused part of the river to flow over the spur to the Taylor River trailhead. Later reports indicate that SUV style vehicles should still be able to negotiate the trench eroded across the road (see the last photo below).


The Taylor River overflowed it’s banks and ran across the spur road to the trailhead in two places.


Gateway Bridge still safely above the water


The log jam at the top of the picture restricted the flow of the Taylor River causing water to flow across the road


The log jam is at the left of this picture in front of the tree island. The tree with the huge root ball on the right came down the river while I was standing here.


A creek flowing down an unusual spot along the road to the Dingford Creek trailhead. Normally this water would come down the drainage in the background.


Dingford Creek falls from the bridge. The spray was so intense it was impossible to get a clear shot.


Compare to flow level in late summer


Taylor River trailhead washout on November 1 after the high water receded. Photo by Bill Davis.

Related stories

  • Cliff Mass Weather Blog – Serious Precipitation and Flooding is Probable During the Next 72 Hours
  • Living Snoqualmie – Heavy Rain, Wind Roll into Snoqualmie Valley; River Rising, Flood Warning, Wind Advisory Issued
  • SnoValley Star – County issues Phase III flood alert for Snoqualmie River

Severe rain storm closes Middle Fork road

In early January the northwest was the recipient of another atmospheric river delivering moisture from the central Pacific. Cliff mass wrote “As much as 13 inches on the coast, with many locations getting 5-8 inches. But less than a quarter of an inch in the rain shadow over parts of Puget Sound and NW Washington. Big totals (4-6 inches) along the western slopes of the Cascades.” Rain gages in the North Bend area recorded over 4 1/2 inches of rain within a 24 hour period and the Middle Fork river responded with the 8th highest recorded flow to-date. Unfortunately the TANW1 gage, which is the only one that measures the Middle Fork in isolation failed midway through the event, but the last measured discharge* was 27,300 cfs at 11:15am, a couple hours after the rain had let up so the actual peak was likely close this value.


Flooded river access by Concrete Bridge


Precipitation map for Middle Fork area. The North Bend stations would eventually record 4 1/2 inches of rain on the morning of January 5.


Discharge as measured by the TANW1 river gage. Unfortunately the gage failed midway through the storm so the rest of this graph was inferred as a proportionate estimate from downstream gages measuring the combined flow of all three forks.

An event with such high flows would normally have serious consequences for the Middle Fork road. This time was unique in that the Middle Fork paving project had completed the first of three years of work with the last two miles of pavement completed including many new culverts for improved drainage. Most of the new work held up well to the extraordinary water flow levels but a few exceptions resulted in the road subsequently being closed until Memorial Day.

  • The biggest problem was at the newly constructed box culverts at the stream crossings just beyond the CCC trail, otherwise known as Bessequartz Creek. The problems with this creek date back to a landslide on the southeast ridge of Bessemer in the 1998-2003 period that deposited a load of rocks into the drainage. With each major rain event the rocks were moved further downstream, first inundating the road during the massive 2009 flood. This current flood brought down enough rocks and logs to completely block one of the box culverts. The stream then overflowed the road, covering it with small boulders and forming new drainage channels across the recently reconfigured road bed.

    Old landslide scar visible on Bessemer’s southeast ridge


    Bessequartz Creek washout


    View up Bessequartz Creek showing the rocks and logs that have filled up the previous stream channel and blocked the box culvert. The stream should be draining directly under my feet.


    Almost no water is coming through the culvert because it’s blocked on the upstream end. The water has undercut the concrete slats.


    View of the Bessequartz Creek washout from the upstream side

  • A second major problem occurred just before the Bessequartz Creek crossing by the CCC trail junction where the road slumped because of a soft and unstable lens of clay under the road bed. The same area has been a problem in previous years as well. The paving plans call for a “deep patch” in this area which will reinforce the upper few feet but will not help with the underlying problem.

    Small road slump and erosion approaching the CCC trail junction


    Road slump by CCC trail junction


    Road slump by CCC trail junction

  • A third issue was a minor road slump just beyond the Bessemer road. This would later be addressed with another “deep patch” of the road bed.

    Road slump just past the Bessemer road

  • The road just past the Dingford turnoff up Hell Hill is frequently subjected to runoff and this was no exception.

    Newly eroded gully on the road up Hell Hill

  • The wash at the top of Hell Hill is used by the Forest Service as a source of gravel fill and they got a fresh supply delivered by Garfield Mountain. This time it partially covered logs stored there that were cleared from the right of way as part of the paving project.

    Garfield Mountain delivered a fresh round of gravel to the wash at the top of Hell Hill, covering the logs placed there from paving project clearing of the Middle Fork road.

These issues resulted in the closure of the road, ultimately until Memorial Day. The Forest Service’s Facebook announcement stated “The Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest is closing the Middle Fork Snoqualmie River Road (Forest Service road 56) for public safety until further notice. The road has recently experienced major storm damage making the road impassable. The Middle Fork Snoqualmie River Road will be closed at mile 2.2, near Valley Camp and Mailbox Peak Trailhead. At this time, Federal Highways Administration officials are determining how best to repair the road.”

Related News

* Some time after the event, the USGS retroactively removed TANW1 raw data from the record back to midnight on January 5 because it could not be calibrated. Fortunately, we were able to capture that last morning of measurements and based on experience of observing other high water events it was close to reality even if not up to USGS standards.

2013 Peak Flow?

On March 13, 2013 the Middle Fork river flowed briefly at 7,000 cubic feet per second. A significant amount, but well below flood stage.

Has the Middle Fork River had it’s peak flow for the year? As of March 15, it’s been a mild year for river flow levels. That’s a good thing because extreme levels cause wash-outs and road closures. Check out the graph below and decide for yourself. The top of the blue band is the 95th percentile river level for each day over the last 51 years. Excluding the top 5% river level readings eliminates the rare flood events and gives a more “usual” sense of when the river flow can peak. The bottom of the blue band is the absolute minimum, and since it’s not dangerous, except maybe to fish, there’s no reason to use a percentile there.

TANW1 graph

Middle Fork Snoqualmie TANW1 river flow statistics as of 2013/03/15

Being conservative, we’re not out of the woods yet for a major flood event this year, but given the low snow levels it’s unlikely that a damaging flood will occur now. On the other hand, in 2012 a lot of the snow pack accumulated late in the year. It’s too soon to tell for sure, but things are looking good for a wash-out free spring. But there’s still November and December lurking, when some of the worst floods have happened.

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