California’s impressive winter snowpack means dangerous rushing rivers this summer

A sign warning the public of dangerous river conditions is posted alongside the American River in Sacramento, California on May 23, 2023.

A sign warning the public of dangerous river conditions is posted alongside the American River in Sacramento, California on May 23, 2023.

A series of back-to-back snowstorms dropped a lot of snow on the California mountains this winter. And now all that snow is finally melting and filling up the state’s rivers. It’s making them bigger, faster, colder, and extremely dangerous to swim in.

State security officials are concerned about upcoming recreational activities surrounding this Memorial Day weekend. The concerns arise especially after the city of Sacramento has already experienced 20 water rescues this year, the Associated Press reported. That’s the same number of bailouts the city saw for all of 2022.

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Other parts of the state have also seen river-related accidents this year. In late April, a man was swept away by the American River in Auburn, California after jumping into the water with some friends. He has yet to be found, SFGATE reported. And in early May, another man went missing after wading into the Tule River near the Sierra foothills in a flotation device.

In response, the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services issued a safety reminder Thursday, warning anyone visiting rivers or state parks this weekend. Park-goers were told to be aware of their surroundings and investigate road and river conditions before heading to an outdoor recreation area. “Many parks and hiking trails have lakes or rivers close by. Conditions could change quickly and it is important to be prepared,” the warning read.

Earlier this year, officials measured some of the highest snowpack ever recorded in the state’s Sierra Nevada mountains. During an inspection conducted in early April, they found more than 120 inches of accumulated snow. It was a welcome change because many of the state’s lakes, rivers and reservoirs rely on snowmelt each year to replenish their water. And this year’s snow has actually helped to raise water levels in major waterways like Shasta Lake. Winter storms and snowpack have alleviated the intense drought California suffered last year. The state experiences almost no dry conditions, according to the US Drought Monitor.

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