Storm threatens, backs down

A storm that picked up momentum Wednesday night and reached a crescendo early Thursday ultimately backed down, sending a welcome wave of relief over Island County.

Bill Oakes saw the writing on the wall Wednesday. A wind surfer with his finger constantly in the air, the county public works director knew the combination of high tides and a substantial storm front could prove disastrous. He immediately acted to maximize the rare warning time.

With the county commissioners’ approval, and in coordination with the Island County Department of Emergency Management, Oakes dispatched staff to place National Wather Service warnings on residences in the low-lying areas on the west side of Whidbey and Camano islands.

Public works crews were also busy Thursday morning when the storm and high tides threatened West Beach Road residents.

“We didn’t officially close down the road, but we posted vehicles at both ends of the low area to warn people,” said Randy Brackett, assistant county engineer, who braved the winds and spray in the early hours. “It never turned out to be a big event.”

Before 6 a.m., water bypassed houses and flowed across the road, carrying with it sand and wood debris. As the county consumed its first cup of morning coffee, it became clear that what could have rivaled one of last year’s fierce and unforgiving winter storms would be nothing more than postured muscle flexing.

The Island County Sheriff’s Department monitored the West Beach area and at one point considered evacuating residents if the storm worsened. Fortunately, the drastic action never became necessary.

I-COM assembled a staff sufficiently prepared to field a barrage of storm-related calls that dispatchers were relieved never came.

“It wasn’t nearly as bad as it could have been with that combination of tides and winds,” said Alice Johnson, I-COM operations supervisor. “This was nothing like we’ve had in the past. The calls were mostly for branches down and water at West Beach.”

The impotent storm even failed to knock out power in most areas where the winds were threatening to help roof shingles relocate against their will.

“We had more outages on Camano Island in the last weeks than we did during the storm,” Johnson said. “We didn’t have anything big on either island.”

She praised the county’s early response time and the efforts of DEM’s Dave Hollett and Mike Simmons, both of whom work tirelessly to educate the community on not only who to call, but when to call and in what situation.

“They are doing a great job,” she said.

Brackett said the distribution of early written warnings is usually not possible given the unpredictable behavior of weather systems. However, public works is more than willing to go door-to-door with the notices in anticipation of events for which there is ample warning.

“When we have enough time and the wherewithal to do it, we’re definitely going to,” he said.

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