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Atmospheric river brings heavy rain, flooding to Pacific Northwest

An atmospheric river brought heavy rain, flooding and unseasonably warm temperatures to the Pacific Northwest, closing rail links, schools and roads as it shattered daily rainfall and temperature records in Washington state.

CBS News senior weather and climate producer David Parkinson reported early Wednesday that the atmospheric river was coming to an end and all the rivers involved were creating or had crested.

Amtrak said Tuesday that no passenger trains will be running between Seattle and Portland, Oregon, until Thursday because of a landslide. The National Weather Service issued flood warnings in parts of western Washington, including in areas north and east of Seattle and across a large swath of the Olympic Peninsula.

In Beaverton, a suburb of Portland, a man's body was discovered in a creek Tuesday morning, according to the Washington County Sheriff's Office. The victim's cause of death is under investigation, although officials said there were no signs of injury.  

In Rosburg, Washington, near the Oregon border, the Coast Guard said it rescued five people who got trapped in floodwaters. Four of those were hoisted by a chopper when they became stranded in a home that was surrounded by four feet of water, the Coast Guard said. A fifth was hoisted from a truck that got trapped in a flooded roadway. Coast Guard video showed the victim sitting on the roof of the truck while a guardsman was lowered down to pull them to safety.

stranded driver rescued by Coast Guard in Rosburg Washington
A stranded driver is rescued by the Coast Guard in Rosburg, Washington. Dec. 5, 2023.  U.S. Coast Guard

In Monroe, Washington, just northeast of Seattle, fire and rescue crews reported bringing to safety four people and a dog who had been trapped in a park by swollen waters.

Washington state flooding rescue
Firefighters rescue four people and a dog who got trapped in a flooded park in Monroe, Washington. Dec. 5, 2023.  Snohomish Regional Fire & Rescue

The wet conditions also brought warm temperatures to the region. At 64 Fahrenheit in Walla Walla in southwestern Washington, it was as warm as parts of Florida and Mexico, according to the NWS. Seattle reported 59 degrees F at 1 a.m. Tuesday morning, breaking its previous daily record high, the weather service said.

Atmospheric rivers, sometimes known as a "Pineapple Express" because the long and narrow bands of water vapor convey warm subtropical moisture across the Pacific from near Hawaii, delivered enormous amounts of rain and snow to California last winter.

On the Olympic Peninsula, the small town of Forks — whose claim to fame is being the rainiest town in the contiguous U.S. — saw its rainfall record for Dec. 4 more than double after it received about 3.8 inches of rain, the NWS said. By early Tuesday morning, it had recorded 4.7 inches of rain over 24 hours — more rainfall than Las Vegas has received in all of 2023, according to the agency.

About 100 miles farther south, the daily rainfall record for Dec. 4 was broken in Hoquiam, which received about 2.6 inches of rain on Monday, the NWS said. Seattle also set a new rainfall record for that date with 1.5 inches, said Kirby Cook, science and operations officer at the NWS office in Seattle.

"We'll continue to see significant impacts, especially with river crests and rises on area rivers" through Wednesday morning, he said.

A section of Washington State Route 106 was closed as rising water levels in the Skokomish River overflowed onto the roadway, state transportation officials said.

The NWS said it expected to see precipitation and temperatures climb to record-breaking heights in western Washington on Tuesday.

In Granite Falls, Washington, about 45 miles north of Seattle, video posted on social media by Kira Mascorella showed water surrounding homes and flooding driveways and yards. Mascorella, who lives in nearby Arlington, said it was "pouring down rain" when she woke up Tuesday and was still raining hard late in the afternoon. She said she called out of work because of water on the roadways and wasn't sure if they would be passable Wednesday.

A landslide closed parts of a Seattle trail popular with walkers, joggers and cyclists, the city's parks department said. Crews were assessing the damage to the Burke-Gilman Trail and working on setting up detour routes.

Heavy rains also battered Oregon. Parts of coastal U.S. Highway 101 were closed because of flooding, including in areas around Seaside and at the junctions with U.S. Route 26 and Oregon Route 6, the state's transportation department said.

At least three school districts along the Oregon coast shuttered for the day because of flooding and road closures.

Officials have urged drivers to use caution, avoid deep water on roadways and expect delays.

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