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Warm weather brings runoff warning on Utah waterways

SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake City is expected to hit a high temperature of 82 degrees Friday, and with that will come people who want to play near streams, rivers and lakes.

United Fire Authority's public information officer Eric Holmes warns residents to exercise caution near waterways, which are colder and flowing stronger than people might suspect.

"People get overwhelmed very quickly. Water moves very quickly and it is a lot stronger than people give it credit for," he said.

The spring runoff is now starting to get underway, and that means more dangerous conditions, added Brian McInerney, hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Salt Lake City.

"This is the time that people should be aware that flows are going to be picking up and it will be dangerous," McInerney said.

Utah is coming off a much below-average snow accumulation season, with most areas of the state picking up just half of the snow than is typical.

McInerney said that while runoff volumes are low — they will be half of what the state gets on average between April and the end of July — the water will still pose a threat.

"It is that time of year when streams are starting to pick up and people will want to be out near them," he said.

Holmes said Unified Fire Authority firefighters will begin their swift water rescue training in May — something the agency does each year to make sure rescuers have the skills to retrieve victims and keep themselves safe.

"We did not have quite the snow year that we have had in the past," he said, "but people need to realize it was snow yesterday, regardless of how much is in the runoff and in creeks. They need to use as much caution as possible, especially with little kids."

Last year saw several drownings.

Three people — a 4-year-old girl, her mother and a bystander, died in the Provo River at Bridal Veil falls on Memorial Day last year. An Illinois man drowned, but his wife was saved by a bystander, after a kayak toppled over at Deer Creek last August.

In June, a 23-year-old man died at Farmington Pond. That same month a young North Dakota boy died in a community reservoir in Spanish Fork.

McInerney said the peak runoff for most areas in Utah will hit in late May, but warned people to be vigilant around the water at all times.

"It's really cold — take your breath away cold — and dangerous."