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'Atmospheric river' fuels rains, snow in Pacific Northwest

A snow-covered highway with a pile of snow to the side.
Washington State Department of Transportation
"With a foot of snow overnight, crews are busy on US 2 Stevens Pass cleaning up this morning's avalanche control and plowing the highway. The risk of avalanche remains high with up to 3 inches of rain forecast today," the Washington State Department of Transportation tweeted Monday morning.

A strong storm fueled by an “atmospheric river” brought rain, snow and threat of flooding and avalanches on Monday to the Pacific Northwest.

Forecasters said daily rainfall records in Seattle and elsewhere could be broken and on Monday afternoon a new daily record was set in the city with 2.49 inches (6.3 centimeters) of rain. The previous daily record for Feb. 28 was 1.46 inches (3.7 centimeters) set in 1972, according to the National Weather Service. The new record also took the spot of the fourth wettest February day on record and the 18th wettest day since record-keeping started, the agency said.

The Seattle rainfall total over 48 hours of 3.73 inches (9.5 centimeters) was close to surpassing the normal precipitation for all of February, forecasters said via Twitter.

South of Seattle in Olympia, 2.60 inches (6.6 centimeters) of rain fell Monday for the third wettest February day recorded there. Astoria, Oregon, also saw record rainfall for the day with 2.09 inches (5.3 centimeters) of rain.

Heavy snowfall and avalanche dangers closed Snoqualmie Pass and Stevens Pass, roadways over the Cascade Mountains that connect western Washington and eastern Washington. Stevens Pass reopened by Monday afternoon while Snoqualmie Pass opened around 5 p.m. amid rain and standing water, transportation officials said.

The Northwest Avalanche Center issued warnings for almost all of its forecasting zones. “Triggering a slide is likely and will be big enough to bury or kill you. Avoid travel in or below avalanche terrain,” the center said.

Flood watches and warnings were in effect through Wednesday for rivers throughout the greater Seattle area. The Skokomish River in Mason County was at flood levels Monday morning and dozens more were expected to crest by Monday night or Tuesday morning.

Flooding closed some roads in Washington and Oregon Monday afternoon and forecasters warned of an ongoing increased threat of landslides.

A flood watch was also issued for the northwest Oregon coast.

Atmospheric river storms are fueled by long and wide plumes of moistures pulled in from the Pacific.

The Associated Press