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Hot temps, runoff make for dangerous waterways this weekend

Published: Friday, May 16 2008 12:11 p.m. MDT

There's a lot of snow in the mountains and it's going to be an unusually hot weekend, which means people are being advised to use caution around creeks and rivers swollen with spring runoff.

"Every year when we have above-normal flows, people die just by using poor judgment," said Brian McInerney, hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Utah.

Flooding may also be a concern in more vulnerable areas if snowmelt added with rain, possibly by Tuesday or Wednesday, combine forces for added volume and velocity.

Near or above record temperatures in the Salt Lake are are expected to reach 85 Saturday, 93 Sunday and 95 on Monday, at a time when the thermometer should be reading closer to 70.

"We've got a big high-pressure ridge settling over the western part of the United States," said Eric Schoening, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Salt Lake City. "We could be as much as 25 degrees above normal."

Schoening said the heat is already on from San Francisco all the way up to Seattle, with well-above seasonal averages up and down the West Coast. In Utah it's supposed to cool off starting Tuesday afternoon, bringing unstable conditions with possible showers and thunderstorms.

The more dramatic jump in creek and river levels this weekend are expected in northern Utah. Flooding from runoff alone isn't expected, but the rains could cause some waterways to reach flood stage, the National Weather Service is reporting.

McInerney said that, with any rain next week, there may be a greater chance for some localized flooding in newly developed residential areas near a creek or river or in some bench areas. People should be vigilant about keeping an eye on any nearby waterways, especially with children, who are particularly attracted to streams.

"They're really pretty and fun to look at," he said. But if they or even adults fall in, jump in or try to cross one and slip, the frigid temperature of the water may be the biggest worry.

"You have just minutes to pull yourself out before hypothermia sets in and you lose function in your limbs," McInerney said. "The waters are very swift and very cold."

Sharp rises are expected this weekend for City Creek, Little Cottonwood Creek, the Weber River near Oakley and the Provo River above Jordanelle Reservoir.

Temperatures in Cedar City and St. George are also expected to break records Sunday and Monday, but stream flows in that area of the state are predicted to reach "modest" peak flow volumes in the coming weeks. With all of the runoff water recharging most of Utah's reservoirs to normal levels this year, McInerney doesn't want anyone getting overconfident.

"Water is a finite resource," he said. "We have only so much to use."


E-mail: sspeckman@desnews.com

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