Storm After-Action Report and More Thoughts on Western Washington as a Retreat Locale, by Countrytek

I’m a life-long Western Washington resident – except for five years in Kansas & two in Berlin while in the U.S. Army. I’m the great-grandchild of Washington pioneers. I love this state – the ocean, mountains and fertile valleys – but what it has become — not so much.
This past weekend, (November 30 – December 1, 2007), the Olympic Peninsula of Washington state was hit by an arctic front from the Gulf of Alaska, dropping 3-6″ of snow in our area. The weather folks told us not to worry, that it wouldn’t last long, because we had a “Pineapple Express” blowing in from Hawaii. (If this were the other Left Coast, they’d call it a tropical depression — but up here in the Great North Wet, we don’t rate such notoriety, so they just call it a “Pineapple Express.”) The West coast of Washington (and parts of the North coast) experienced sustained hurricane force winds, with gusts as high as 130 mph in places. An aircraft landing at Boeing Field in Seattle recorded gusts of 140 knots at 4,000 feet on his approach.

I took one look at weather conditions this morning, and decided that it was a good day to hunker down and take care of me and mine. I called into work about two hours later. (Days when they expect bad weather, I get up extra early.). They said “Yeah, yeah, all the roads between here and there are closed . . . Have a great day!” They were right. The embankment above U.S. 101 slid out and across both the southbound and the northbound lanes. To make the picture complete, S.R. 8 was closed by slides, as well, so going the back roads to get to 8 to go around the slide on 101 was out of the question. My supervisor was more optimistic than me, and spent about ninety minutes in traffic snarls before getting turned around to go home.
So, anyway, for those of you who might be thinking that there are parts of the West side of Washington state that might make a good retreat, here’s the shakeout:
– U.S. 101 & S.R. 8 both closed by mudslides in multiple locations leaving only one route on or off the Olympic Peninsula: S.R. 3 via S.R. 16 from Tacoma, crossing the Tacoma Narrows bridge. (It wound up being choked down to one lane late in the day, due to flooding and mudslides.) All alternate secondary and county roads blocked by mudslides, flooding, fallen trees or washed-out bridges.
– At the end of the day, every river in Western Washington is above flood stage. The Skokomish River (always the first to flood, and the last back in its banks) is in a record flood from this event. (Mix heavy lowland snow with over 9″ of rain and unseasonably warm temperatures, and you get big water!) This means that you have flooding in every county in Western Washington.
– My county (Mason County ) lost its main feed from the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA), putting the majority of the county in the dark for about eight hours. We had to wait for a BPA engineer to replace the blown breaker. I’m sure it’s much too complex for our county PUD engineers! (Funny! I live next door to one, and across the street from another, and both seem pretty competent to me.)
– Three small towns in Lewis County evacuated due to flooding.
– 20 miles of I-5 closed South of Chehalis (Lewis County) due to flooding.
– Hood Canal floating bridge closed due to high winds
– All North-South rail corridors blocked by slides or flooding
– Tahuya & Skokomish river valleys isolated due to mudslides and flooding
– Fire district had three separate relief centers set up. The problem was, none of the people who needed them could get to them, and rescue crews couldn’t get to the stranded people to rescue them. Entry into the isolated areas required a lot of chainsaw and bulldozer work.
– One beach community was evacuated by Coast Guard helicopter due to isolation by mudslides
– One death in Mason county, two in Grays Harbor. (Mudslide, falling tree, medical equipment made non-functional by power outage.)
– As of this writing, there are still about 1,000 people who are stranded and un-reachable by emergency services — including a woman in labor. (And this is just in my mostly rural county!)
– Very few grocery stores in Western Washington have backup generators, which means that if the power is off for more than a few hours, all refrigerated foods, dairy, and fresh meat must be disposed of — and, of course, is unavailable to feed hungry people.

Personal Actions:
– Had a breakfast of French toast so we got some warm food into us — just in case.
– Went out and stowed anything liable to blow away, including our Christmas tree and barbecue.
– Touched base with family and close friends
– Talked to my wife’s sister and brother-in-law on their return from their jobs in the Great Cesspool. (Known to the more urbane as Seattle.) They had to brave the Tacoma Narrows Bridge (Always an adventure in high winds! [JWR Adds: This bridge’s predecessors was the one that was made famous by the movie of its wild wind oscillation and collapse], drive to Bremerton, then back-track down S.R. 3 to get to their house and rental house that were both flooding. They reported that there were frequent encounters with water flowing over the road surface on S.R. 3.
– Talked one nephew out if taking the same route that my sister and brother-in-law came in, tried to talk another out of taking the back roads back to his house. He made it okay, but power is out and the creek is threatening. (God bless the man who designed 4-wheel drive!)
– Loaned an extra 100′ extension cord to brother-in-law sister so she could get power from their genset to their house.
– The BPA breaker blew about 10 o’clock, so we munched cold rations and read by sunlight until it was time to dig out flashlights and candles.
– Listened to local news on our hand-crank radio.
– Kept in touch with my brother-in-law’s siblings via hard-wire phone (No cellular service at all, which is not all that unusual here in “cell hell,” and – of course – cordless phones don’t work when there’s no power.)
– Gave ten gallons of water to my brother-in-law’s sister when she came back into town. (They’re on a well and chose to power the freezers and refrigerator instead of the well. they should consider getting a second [or larger] genset.)
– Lifted our Pepsis toward our next door neighbor’s house after the lights came back on an hour earlier than the last prediction.
– Checked the fridge and freezers to find everything as cold as if the power never hiccupped at all.
– Made dinner.
– Sat down at the PC to check for road closures for the morning and to compose this AAR.
This is yet another “100 year event.” Funny, those “100 year events” seem to be coming up every couple years nowadays. Global warming? Over-development? (Much formerly absorbent ground is now capped by spec houses, strip malls, big box stores and the asphalt that accompanies them.) Natural weather cycles? I don’t know. Could be a combination of all three.

Okay, that’s the feed-back on one event. Here are my other observations on Western Washington as a potential retreat locale:

Land: Due to the real estate bubble, this stuff is pretty precious. Good luck finding good land below $10,000 per acre. Expect to pay more. Finding land of any size is getting pretty difficult as well, as anything that’s twice the size of the minimum growth density (5-to-20 acres) gets sub-divided for spec houses or snapped up by conservation Non-Governmental Organization (NGOs). (Look for that to change somewhat now that the bubble has sprung a leak.) Expect unrealistic expectations from the sellers. The past 30 years have been spent in pursuit of the mythical California buyer (or green NGO) who can afford to drop multiple millions on the “right” place. Reality may set in on that front too — eventually. If you can find good land at a decent price, buy it! It won’t last long. Be careful about water — especially out here on the Olympic Peninsula. Either buy it with developed water (a working well), or make the sale contingent on both being able to develop a good water supply and being able to get a septic permit. (Yes! You can do this. Anything in writing is legal in a land transfer in Washington state — which means you need to read and understand all that fine print. Beware of [restrictive] covenants!)

Several things you need to bear in mind when looking for land:
– 44% of Washington’s land is in Federal hands.
– This includes the vast majority of the Olympic Peninsula – there’s a narrow band around the coast that’s in private hands – except for the dozen tribal reservations and the National Park.

– Big timber means something out here. Most of the large non-NGO private tracts belong to one of the big three timber companies: Simpson, Weyerhauser or Louisiana Pacific.

– NGO. Learn what it means. There are a lot of them out here. One stated goal is to acquire all the private land on the Olympic Peninsula and SW Washington and “rehabilitate it.” (That means get rid of the unwashed.) Which brings us to . . .

Regulatory Environment:Welcome to the Nanny state! Forget about throwing up a cordwood castle with “a little house out back.” Those days are long gone this side of the hump (and from what I’ve seen on my too infrequent trips over the hump, fading fast on the dry side [of Washington], too). Forget about being able to put in a gravity flow septic system. This is the land of the engineered system! Almost always above ground, usually including one or more [electrically-powered] pumping systems. If you buy developed land that includes an existing gravity-flow septic system, the baby that puppy! You do not want it to fail! Because, if it does, you will be putting in a very expensive engineered system to replace it.

System capacity is calculated by the number of bedrooms in your residence, so having a wink wink “den” is not unusual around here. Get creative! You can have sewing rooms, libraries, media rooms (Children are the ultimate media, after all — they are you writ on eternity . . . or at least the next generation.), or whatever non-sleeping purpose room you can think of — just do not exceed the number of bedrooms that your system is designed to carry. If you decided to “second-purpose” some of those non-bedrooms, it would be wise to find out about – and make friends with – the local septic pumping guy who can keep his mouth shut! (Hint: If he’s one of the County Planner’s brothers-in-law, he probably ain’t the guy you’re looking for!)

Think that’s the worst? Not hardly! Ever heard of “Critical Habitat Zones” or “Aquifer Recharge Areas?” This is new-speak for “We’re taking your land, and you get to pay for it!” It’s a toss-up for which is worse, because basically what it means is that the land-owner gets to pay for returning the land to some mythical “pre-aboriginal state,” Whatever in God’s creation that is supposed to be — and however some pencil-neck with a PhD is going to verify it! Because – unless I miss my mark – the only ones who are going to know what this land looked like before the aboriginal peoples got here would be the bears and God! I don’t think too many PhDs hereabouts confer with either. Oh, yeah . . . Once you’re finished paying for restoring your land to it’s long-previous pristine condition, you – nor none of your kith nor kin – may ever set foot on it again. Did I mention you do get to keep the inestimable privilege of paying taxes on said land that you were compelled to improve in a way that you might – or might not – agree with — and may never use again? It boggles this country boy’s mind, let me tell you!
I could go on and on . . . But at the risk of stretching your incredulity even further — Let’s jump to Politics!

Political Environment:
All policy is set by the Seattle set. If you think otherwise, you’re delusional and should seek proper assistance. Yes, we have some real conservatives hereabouts, but not enough to matter. It doesn’t help that most of the “loyal opposition” are more interested in sticking it to each other (in one sense or the other) than fighting the foes across the aisle. This state is the gold-bound proof to the theory that at least 85% of evangelical Christians refuse to register to vote or go to the polls. There are a lot of very nice Christian folk hereabouts – but either they don’t vote, or there’s a complete disconnect between their faith and their politics. So now that we’ve settled that little question, let’s look at the characteristics of a typical denizen of the Great Cesspool:
o Frequently seen at the statue of V.I. Lenin in Ballard
o Is a deep ecologist
o Supports radical feminism
o Believes that animals, trees and flowers are more valuable than children
o Is staunchly “pro-choice”
o Hung out/ sat-in upon / got lucky at “Red Square” whilst attending “The U”
o Has dabbled in Wicca, Earth Mother Worship, an Eastern religion, or is “spiritually sensitive”
o Probably a union Democrat, or the spawn thereof
o Drives – or covets – a high-end Japanese or European luxury/sport sedan, SUV, or hybrid vehicle
o Thinks most Christians need re-education, or at least intense sensitivity training
o Believes that the owning property is for the privileged — not the un-washed. (Guess which camp he/she/it falls in?)
o Rabidly anti-gun
o Radically Politically Correct (PC)
o Is certain that patriotism is a curable condition
o Voted for Kucinich and will vote for Obama
o Is convinced that Starbucks is a cultural center
o Thinks the U.N. is humanity’s only hope

Public Education:

Perennially over-funded and under-performing. Case-in-point: The top-rated public school district in the state has a 44% drop-out rate for boys. Girls do much better: 36%. Most districts turn out the barely-literate as their average students. What can one expect from a system that comes up with concepts like “compulsory volunteerism” Oh yeah, your kids can get extra credit for participating in an anti-war rally or an Act-Up event. My advice to anyone moving here that has children – or expects to have children – avoid the Washington public school system like the plague! Fortunately, we still have a pretty much hands-off homeschool environment here and some very good parochial schools. Raise ’em up right, teach them critical thinking skills, and there just might be some hope for this socialist’s paradise!

Bookmark your favorite conservative radio shows’ web sites! Because you are not going to hear them on the airwaves around here. To give you an idea which way the wet side media leans: A cat getting shot with a BB gun will be reported with more gravity and sympathy than the beating death of a child or the gang rape of a young woman. ‘Nuff said?

– We got tons of it! As long as it’s oh-so properly PC.

– Can we say “methamphetamine?” Keep an eye on your back 40. It may sprout a meth lab. (So might the neighbor’s rental property.)
– High rates of burglary and car theft
– Robberies and home invasions up
– I.D. theft on the rise

– The Economic Bubble os due to burst. We’ve always had a boom and bust economy here, and it’s been riding high for too long.

– Earthquake
o We’re overdue for “The Big One.” This is especially true for the Cascadia Subduction Zone and the Seattle fault complex.
· Either of these could spawn dramatic Tsunamis. Avoid locating in low-lying costal areas or areas prone to slippage. You really want to learn about the Cascadia Subduction Zone and plan accordingly. An event on this system will be a regional event — from Alaska to mid-California. Outlying areas will be on their own – probably for at least a month – due to bridge collapses and land slides. Also, aid will go first to where it does the most good for the highest number. I’m thinking that means the Puget Sound Metroplex, Portland, the Oregon I-5 corridor and San Francisco.
· We’re talking a magnitude 9+ event with a duration of 10-15 minutes at the slip point, which translates to a 6-8 magnitude event of the same duration in the heavy population centers, possibly followed by a Tsunami measured in the hundreds of feet.
· Historically, there’s been an event on this system every 300 years or so. The last one was in the mid-1700s. You do the math.

o Volcanoes
– All the major Cascade and Olympic mountain range peaks are volcanoes. Most are active.

The Golden Horde
o The Puget Sound Metroplex currently holds 3.5 million people. It is expected to grow to ~ 5.2 million by 2025
– Most have supplies for no more than three days – if any at all
– Most are used to an upper-middle class existence with all the urban/suburban amenities.
– Most are familiar with the Cascade and Olympic regions.
– Despite the anti-gun environment they foster and support, many will be armed.
– Many have off-road capable vehicles (The up-side is that 95% of those have never actually taken their vehicles off-road.)
– Many have boats
– Many have quads or dirt bikes
– Many have RVs
– You won’t need to worry about them during a Cascadia event or a Nuclear strike, because they won’t be able to get to you in the former case — and most will be vaporized in the latter.
· All other scenarios: Plan for and expect The Golden Horde.
– One more happy thought: Here on the Olympic Peninsula we see just as many Oregon plates on the weekend as we do from Washington, so expect some of the Portland Horde if you settle on the Peninsula or in southwestern Washington.
– And yet another: Many rural Washington counties contain prisons . . . What’s going to happen when the lights go out and/or the guards don’t get paid?

– Terrorism
o Due to the high population and strategic location of the Puget Sound Metroplex it is a high-value/high-visibility target.
– Nuclear First-strike Target List
o Primary
– Ft. Lewis & McChord AFB (Tacoma/S Pierce County)
– Bremerton Naval Ship Yard
– Bangor Submarine Warfare Center and Base
– Whidbey NAS
– Everrett Naval Station (Everett/Marysville)
– Fairchild AFB (Spokane)
– Hanford Nuclear Energy Complex

o Secondary
– Seattle
· Boeing
· Other heavy manufacturing & high tech
· Port
· Ship yards
· Transportation & communication center
– Tacoma
· Port
· Shipyards
· Other heavy manufacturing & high tech
· Transportation & communication center
– Everett
· Boeing
· Other heavy manufacturing & high tech
· Port
– Bellingham
· Port
– Portland, Oregon
· Port
· Transportation & communication center
– East Side Corridor
· High-tech & biotechnology
· Communications center
· Transportation corridor
– Cherry Point (Bellingham, Whatcom County)
· Petroleum Refinery complex
– Padilla Bay (Anacortes, Skagit County)
· Petroleum Refinery complex

o Tertiary
– Kelso/Longview
· Port
· Rail hub
– Aberdeen/Hoquiam
· Port
– Olympia
· Seat of Government
· Minor port
– Anacortes
· Minor port
– Moses Lake
· Long runway (Fighter & Bomber capable)
– SEA-TAC (Both the City & Airport)
· Long runway (Fighter & Bomber capable)
– Tri-cities (Richland, Pasco, Kennewick)
· Brain drain Battelle, etc. (Hanford staff/researchers)
If the nukes ever fly, the Western half of this state is going to look like we had missile silos all over the place. Why? Transportation, military, high-tech & communications.

– Pandemic
o Both SEA-TAC {seattle -Tacoma airport] and to a lesser extent, PDX (Portland International) are international hubs — and of course, Vancouver BC’s airport is their Canadian counterpart. Flights originate for the Pacific Rim countries, Europe, Mexico and Central and South America.
o Washington sits in the mainstream of the Pacific Flyway for migratory fowl.
o Washington is a major poultry producer


So, are you wondering why I haven’t run screaming for the hills of Idaho yet? Like I said in my intro: I love this state. It has its problems — probably more than its fair share, for that matter. But, it is beautiful. One acre of good Western Washington bottom land will support a cow and her calf well — two will support a horse at a high level of feed. It will also grow just about anything, and you are blessed with a long growing season. Rain can be a bit problematic at harvest times — but my ancestors managed to muddle through somehow. There are a lot of nice folk, too . . . Just wish they’d let me tell ’em how to vote — and then actually do it!
Of course, I could just be living in the state of De Nile. – Countrytek