Unified Fire Authority issues reminders about swift water safety as snow begins to melt

Local News

SALT LAKE COUNTY (ABC4 News) – As the Navajo Police Department halted its search for 4-year-old Anndine Jones who went missing near McElmo Creek in San Juan County Thursday, first responders are reminding residents of swift water dangers as the snow melts.

Brenda Alcorn, Senior Hydrologist for the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center, said Big and Little Cottonwood Creeks have not had flows as high as currently forecasted since 2011.

“Given the current snowpack, we can expect above average stream flows this spring at the height of the snow melt, and much higher than what occurred last spring,” said Alcorn. “In addition, the flows will likely be elevated for an extended period of time this year.”

She said spring temperatures and precipitation play a significant role in stream flow levels during the snow melt period. In any year, an extended period of above-normal temperatures or heavy rainfall during the melt can increase flows quickly.

The longer the weather stays cool and/or wet, the greater the chance there is for higher flows when the snow does start melting.

“During the snowmelt runoff season rivers and streams will be running high, fast and cold,” said Alcorn. “Hypothermia will occur quickly and severely incapacitate even the strongest swimmers.”

As the weather warms up and residents begin to flock to the water, Unified Fire Authority wants to remind Utahns to take the right precautions before entering the water.

“Often times, a little bit of water is deceptively strong and just a foot or two deep could have a scarily, powerful current that goes with it,” said Matthew McFarland, spokesperson for Unified Fire Authority. “So you might think a water source is benign as you try to cross it or play in it, but it could easily sweep you off your feet and it’s really unexpected at times.”

McFarland said anytime you, your children, or your pets are recreating near a body of water, make sure you have a personal flotation device on such as a lifejacket.

“When someone gets swept away, it’s almost instantly critical,” he said. “This is snow melt water. It is cold, often times just a few degrees above freezing temperatures. Once you’re in it, your body can shut down very quickly and your ability to use your motor functions is going to be limited.”

If you witness someone getting swept away by the current, McFarland said do NOT jump into the water to try and save them. Look for something you can use to reach out to the victim and call 911 immediately.

In May 2017, a mother and a Good Samaritan drowned while trying to rescue a 4-year-old girl in the Provo River.

“All too often, we’ve seen would-be rescuers become victims as well and then tragically, it’s twice the victims, if not, more,” he said.

If you get swept away by swift water, he advises to focus on keeping your head above the water and your feet downstream facing the direction you’re going. This will eliminate the chances of crashing into boulders and underwater hazards.

“If you’re anywhere near moving water, expect the unexpected. Expect that it’s going to be stronger than you think it is and that it may very well sweep you away,” said McFarland.

For more water safety tips, click here.

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