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Weather Service: Major storms aimed at W. Wash. could be 'very destructive'

Weather satellite shows storm systems approaching Western Washington from the Pacific.

** NOTE: An updated forecast/story has been posted here: First of pair of strong windstorms poised to strike tonight **

SEATTLE - The National Weather Service isn't mincing words when it comes to the local forecast for the next few days, warning residents there is a one-in-three chance of a "historical windstorm for nearly all of Western Washington that would be long remembered."

The apocalyptic wording was included in a special weather statement issued Wednesday morning headlined: "Very stormy weather to unleash multiple impacts on Western Washington from Thursday through the weekend ... "

According to the statement, the series of storms set to rampage through the Pacific Northwest will be "impressive" and could last several days.

"The main impacts will be from flood-producing rainfall and damaging winds," the statement says. "Along the coast, giant waves and coastal flooding are possible this weekend."

Power outages are a certainty in many areas and virtually every emergency agency in Western Washington is warning local residents to stock up on batteries, flashlights and other emergency supplies. Clogged drains also could cause localized urban flooding if residents fail to clear leaves. And downed trees could damage structures and block many roads.

The rain will actually start Wednesday night as breezy conditions develop along the coast.

The first big increase in southerly wind will happen on the coast on Thursday afternoon, spreading inland toward the Puget Sound region on Thursday night. A high wind warning has been issued for that period warning of gusts of up to 60 mph on the coast and 45 or 55 mph in the interior lowlands.

This first storm will bring hefty rainfall totals of 1 to 3 inches around the Puget Sound area, 2 to 5 inches along the coast and Cascade Mountains, and 4 to 8 inches over the Olympic Mountains. Rainfall totals of this range will cause area rivers to rise, with flooding possible on a few.

Friday will be rainy and windy, but it will serve as a relative lull before a more potentially damaging storm on Saturday.

The Saturday storm, with origins that began as Typhoon Songda in the Western Pacific, could be very destructive or it could develop as a more run-of-the-mill windstorm of the type that Western Washington experiences a few times each year during the stormy season.

There is a one-in-three chance of the more destructive scenario unfolding, which could unleash tremendous damage across the region, if the storm follows a more southerly track. If it follows a more northerly track, then the storm will be less intense and the damage will be more limited in Western Washington.

Cliff Mass, a respected professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Washington, wrote in his blog that "my head is spinning with the action that may be occurring around here."

If the worst-case scenario unfolds, he wrote that it could be nearly as intense as the historic 1962 Columbus Day storm - and it shares a common origin, since both started as typhoons over the Western Pacific.

In an addendum to the blog, he wrote early Wednesday that the storm also is tapping into an "amazing" plume of moisture across the Pacific Ocean. "Never saw anything like this," he added.

Regardless of which track the storm takes, it will generate massive waves up to 45 feet in height over the Pacific that is likely to generate a dangerous storm surge along the coast.

Waves in the coastal waters just off shore could reach 35 feet in height, says a special marine statement issued by the National Weather Service.

"There is a possibility that wind gusts could reach hurricane force with this system," the statement says. "The sea state will likely become chaotic or confused on

Saturday."

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This is a developing news story. More information will be posted as it becomes available.

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