PIERCE COUNTY, Wash — The grueling heat wave has left its mark on western Washington. But while workers deal with cracked roads and power outages, Mt. Rainier is also falling victim to the blazing temperatures.
After days of triple digit heat, snow levels are several times lower than what they normally would be, and all that water is changing how the mountain looks faster than authorities can react.
“The Nisqually River behind me is several times the volume it would be if we weren’t in the middle of this heat wave, and that’s what caused this trail bridge to wash out,” said Kevin Bacher, spokesperson for Mt. Rainier National Park.
Melting snow and ice on the mountain is a bigger problem than some may think. Glaciers on Mt. Rainier store huge amounts of water. But as they melt that water may be released during what’s called a glacial outburst flood, which is bad news for those living near the rivers that Mt. Rainier’s glaciers feed into.
“Those floods can be several times the size of the high river that we have here, that can cause the river to leave its bank and endanger people that live close to the river,” Bacher explained.
Even though this heat wave is new, trends show that it’s getting warmer in western Washington, which means these effects may be the start of a new normal.
“Events like this are going to be more common as climate change sets in. So you’re going to have more intense storms, more intense heat waves, that’s going to cause more snow to melt,” said Bacher.
Pierce County has installed monitors to watch Nisqually River levels and sirens in nearby places like Ashford to warn residents of any potential flooding.
But as climate change continues to rewrite the behavior of the river, a bigger, more permanent solution may be needed to adjust to this new normal.