California’s rivers are “deadly cold,” state officials warn

The National Weather Service released dire warning in California before a heat wave and the 4th of July holiday: River water temperatures are DEADLY. Think twice before diving into local rivers without a life jacket. It could be the last decision you will make.

The message comes after an unusually wet winter roared the state’s rivers, creating dangerous conditions that have already claimed lives. As temperatures warm, the massive snowpack that formed after an onslaught of storms is melting and feeding frozen water into rivers. The melt is expected to accelerate Friday through Sunday as temperatures are expected to rise to their highest levels of the year so far. The Weather Service forecasts triple-digit temperatures in the Central Valley and 80-degree temperatures in the Sierra.

Snow normally melts gradually during the spring, but as our warmest days are coming, we could see a huge snowmelt event over the July 4 weekend, Sara Kennedy, coordinator, wrote in an email. of nautical education and awareness for California State Parks. . Parts of rivers that may have been good, calm swimming pools in years past may never look the same and may now be a dangerous place to swim, in a very remote area with no resources nearby to rescue a distressed swimmer.

The SouthYuba River on June 14, 2023 remains dangerously fast in South Yuba River State Park.

The SouthYuba River on June 14, 2023 remains dangerously fast in South Yuba River State Park.

NurPhoto/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Typically, by early summer, most of the snow has melted in the Sierra and the rivers begin to ebb and warm. Not so this year, which featured one of the largest snowpacks on record. In the early summer there is still snow in the Sierra which is melting and creating runoff and as a result the rivers are more dangerous than in a normal year.

Because we still have an abundance of snow that hasn’t melted yet, we are getting into the warmest months of the year and are still experiencing a massive snowmelt event causing rivers to flow faster, higher and further. colder than they would at this time of year, wrote Kennedy, who has a rapid water rescue certification and also training as a whitewater guide.

Many people have already died this year in dangerous California rivers. A 4-year-old boy and his 8-year-old sister were swept up in a current and found dead on the Kings River in Fresno County in May. A 15-year-old boy died trying to save his brother from the rushing waters of the Sacramento River in early June. Kennedy said at least two kayakers have died this year.

Any rivers connected to the range will be impacted by melt during the impending heat wave, including the American, Kern, Kaweah, Kings, Yuba, Mokelumne, Stanislaus, Tuolumne, Merced, San Joaquin, and East Walker rivers. such as Cherry Creek.

Nevada County is asking people about the South Yuba River, which is typically a popular summer recreation spot. The South Yuba River will not be safe for swimming for months, the county said in a news release. Keep kids and pets alive by staying out of the river. Skip the dip and go hiking!

Sacramento County Regional Parks, which manages recreation areas on the American River Parkway, is asking anyone who enters the water to fish, boat, swim, float or just wade while wearing a life jacket.

Jason Ince, a spokesman for the California Department of Water Resources, said that even though a significant portion of the snowpack has already melted, the agency points out this year that the state’s rivers will continue to pose a threat during the summer. meaningful to the public.

As the rocks and paths around many rivers can be slippery and water temperatures will quickly shock and[hypothermia]the risk to the public posed by rivers in the Sierra Nevada and Central Valley will continue to be very high, Ince wrote in an email.

Kennedy warned that rivers can run fast even when no white water is in sight. If you haven’t taken a quick water rescue course or aren’t an experienced mariner, you shouldn’t recreate in rivers right now, he said.

The snow-swollen Merced River flows beside El Capitan in Yosemite Valley as warming temperatures increase snowpack runoff, April 28, 2023, in Yosemite National Park, California.

The snow-swollen Merced River flows beside El Capitan in Yosemite Valley as warming temperatures increase snowpack runoff, April 28, 2023, in Yosemite National Park, California.

Mario Tama/Getty Images

One of the biggest mistakes Kennedy said he sees people making is letting children play in rivers without holding them at arm’s length and wearing a life jacket. Pool floats do not provide adequate safety and can burst from being hit by a tree branch. Babies can easily be knocked off their feet and swept up in inches of water, he said.

Kenny said the best thing to do during the heat wave and the Fourth of July holiday is to avoid rivers. He said ocean beaches and lakes with lifeguard towers are a safer bet. Those who want to recreate on the rivers can turn to commercial guide companies who tour the rivers several times a day with certified guides.

The thing that makes rivers especially dangerous to swim in is that most people can’t read rivers and don’t know what’s downstream from where they’re recreating from, he wrote. Most people don’t create their own safety for people in their group swimming in the river, and if you’re not an EXTREMELY strong swimmer and don’t know how to swim in a whirlpool, you can easily get swept away in a river. which seems relatively calm.

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