By Sarah Schrock

I can firmly say that the talk around town this past week centered around the river. Lots of social media posts of people’s properties getting wet, lots of comments like, “have you seen the river?”… “Raging, yeah, I haven’t seen it this high since ’06,” or “it’s getting kinda crazy out there!”

Each year, the river’s acceptance of the winter snow plays out in an awesome display powered by gravity. It’s really quite simple, yet each year we seem to forget as we have become accustomed to the peaceful flows through the low seasons. Then in May, tranquillity turns to turbulence. As the river becomes audible, brown and frothy, we are reminded that gravity is a force we shouldn’t take for granted.

If you saw the river last week, especially Wednesday and Thursday, it was impressive. Peak flow lingered around 19,100 cubic feet per second in Twisp, the highest since 2006. Now, imagine double that flow. That’s what the notorious 1948 flood ran. Much has been written, documented and discussed about the destruction of 1948, but here’s a reminder of some of what happened long before many of us can remember.

Photo courtesy of Yakama Nation Upper Columbia Habitat Restoration Office
Aerial imagery of Twisp during the devastating flood of 1948: note that the Highway 20 bridge is wiped out.

Across the Northwest from Montana to Oregon, mountain streams and rivers experienced record-breaking seasonal run-off exacerbated by a high snowpack, a wet spring, and an unseasonably warm April and May. This led to, effectively, a perfect storm of sorts.

The Columbia River is the receiver of all this water. And — while the Methow surged to over 40,800 cubic feet per second here in Twisp on May 29, 1948, fields and homes were inundated, and bridges at Twisp and Carlton were wiped out — it was the lower Columbia River that took the lion’s share of the water.

Fifty-one lives were lost in the Columbia Basin from the 1948 flood. The Red Cross reported 38,500 people rendered homeless from destruction of residential structures — that’s roughly a population equal to Wenatchee. The city of Vanport near Portland was wiped off the map. The estimated damage was $100,000,000. All due to gravity.

Don’t worry if you missed last week’s spectacle, the river is expected to rise above flood stage again by Friday; river watchers can get another chance to witness gravity do her thing. In the meantime, head for higher ground where you can find this week’s flower of week: delphinium.

Delphinium, also known as larkspur, is a graceful, deep purple flower that comes in pairs or many on a slender stalk. Multiple varieties of larkspur can be found in the horticultural world as plant breeders have made bodacious bold varieties out of the naturally delicate flower. The larkspur mingles with the balsamroot and takes a stand next to the lupines, which tend to dominate the purple club in the shrub steppe. Larkspur are typically much darker purple than lupine and add a complementary contrast to the yellow sea of sunflowers.

Whoever said the east side of the state is WSU Cougar country has never seen the purple-and-gold of the shrub steppe in May; clearly, Huskies roam these hills too.

One more seasonal tip: morel season is here. But don’t ask me where — edible-mushroom hunters don’t divulge their secret spots. This is common etiquette and well known in the morel hunting world. Be vague, give general hints for hunting, but don’t tell them where you go. Have fun hunting!


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