UNUSUALLY DEEP SNOWPACK AND WARMING WEATHER PROMPTS WATER SAFETY WARNING
Outdoor Recreationists Should Take Precautions Against Cold Temperatures, Swift Currents When in or Near Water
Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) warns outdoor water recreationists to take precautions against cold and swift rivers and streams as the state’s abundant snowpack begins melting faster as temperatures rise.
This year’s deep snowfall and cool spring has left California’s overall snowpack at more than three times its usual water content as of June 1, meaning snowmelt will be more rapid than usual when temperatures rise. In the northern part of the state alone, the snowpack is more than five times its usual June 1 average.
The spring snowmelt will result in swift and cold river flows that can create treacherous conditions for recreationists – waders, swimmers, paddlers, boaters, anglers and even hikers cooling off at the water’s edge. As warmer weather and longer days begin melting snow in mountainous regions, water temperatures will drop and flows will continue to rise in waterways and reservoirs.
Most PG&E reservoirs are expected to fill and water to flow over dam spillways through July. In preparation for snowmelt, PG&E has been allowing space in reservoirs so that it can absorb much of the fast runoff and better control downstream water flows.
“We are now observing snow quantities that we normally don’t see beyond April 1,” said Alvin Thoma, director of PG&E’s power generation department. “Additionally, the snow pack has a very high water content. Added all together, a warm spell can significantly increase the flow of cold water in our rivers.”
Thoma advises those planning outings near mountain streams, rivers and reservoirs to be extra vigilant and take appropriate safety measures. Water flows will fluctuate with the warming and cooling of the day so always be prepared for changing conditions.
At this time of year with most reservoirs being full or close to full, summer thunderstorms in the high country can result in sudden, sometimes unexpected increases in downstream river flows much in excess of this year’s large snowmelt runoff.
Here are some safety tips:
Know the Water
- Sudden immersion in cold water can stimulate the “gasp reflex” causing an involuntary inhalation of air or water. It can even trigger cardiac arrest, temporary paralysis, hypothermia and drowning. When faced with swift water, even the strongest swimmers may be easily overwhelmed.
- Cold water entering the ear canal can cause vertigo and disorientation. This may confuse swimmers, causing them to venture deeper into the water.
Know your limits
- Swimming in open water is more difficult than in a swimming pool – people tire more quickly and can get into trouble.
- Cold water causes impairment leading to fatalities. It reduces body heat 25-30 times faster than air does at the same temperature.
- Many unseen obstacles can be lurking below the water’s surface. Swift water can make these obstacles even more treacherous.
Wear a life jacket
- Conditions change quickly in open water and even the best swimmers can misjudge the water and their skills when boating or swimming. Wearing a life jacket can increase survival time.
- A life jacket can provide some thermal protection against the onset of hypothermia and keep you afloat until someone else can rescue you.
- Actively supervise children in and around open bodies of water, giving them your undivided attention. Appoint a designated “water watcher,” taking turns with other adults.
- Teach children that swimming in open water is not the same as swimming in a pool: they need to be aware of uneven surfaces, river currents, ocean undertow and changing weather.