Flood watch: Editorial for Jan. 19, 2011

Jan. 19, 2011

Every storm has its own soul and carries new debris and new ways to describe it. As the Hood River dumped a lumber-filled torrent over scenic Punch Bowl (page A1), Adam Lapierre described it as "tree soup." Around every bend in the river there's a turn of a phrase.

Punch Bowl, vividly named even in normal conditions, turned into a muddy cauldron as logs submerged and then speared straight up out of the cold chocolatey froth.

It begs for an update on the old "if a tree falls …" expression: If a log shoots out of a roiling pool and no one's there to hear it, does it make a splash?

Fortunately, the splashes, crunches and growls of the surging river, while heard and felt, did little damage in the Hood River Valley.

Our neighbors in the Zigzag area on the south side of the mountain did not fare so well as record rains led to devastating erosion. Mt. Hood shielded us from the brunt of the storm, leaving the northeast side with just over an inch, compared with 5-6 inches on the southwest slopes.

Our sympathies to the families who lost their homes; these communities have a long and expensive clean-up ahead.

Granted, more will be known, once the waters and debris settle, about the damage on this side of the mountain. But it appears the valley escaped anything resembling the costly damage of the last significant flood event on the Hood River, November 2006.

Thanks to the snow pack, soils and hillsides mostly held fast.

But every geological event is different. It is impossible to know now how much more likely the riverbanks and uplands are to give way in future storm events.

It is safe to assume there is some weakening. Particularly vulnerable places are bases of steep hillsides; canyon bottoms, stream channels, and areas of rock and soil accumulation at the outlets of canyons.

Whether you are traveling by vehicle or hiking or skiing, care should be taken this time of year. According to the National Weather Service, hazardous areas include road cuts or other areas where slopes of hills have been excavated or over-steepened; and places where slides or debris flows have occurred in the past.

The landscape has changed. Our rivers will surely have new bends, and the character of the delta will be different. We're seeing another winter, another change of scenery.

The rocks may be old, but they still know how to roll.

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