SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Authorities are warning recreationists to be wary of risky waterways as hot weather hits part of the Pacific Northwest.
The National Weather Service issued a heat advisory for most of northwest Oregon and southwest Washington state through Sunday, the Statesman-Journal reported Friday. After an abnormally cool and wet spring, people are expected to head outdoors in droves.
But officials say rivers are running higher and colder than normal, making conditions more hazardous than swimmers, boaters and tubers may expect.
“We know people are going to want to be out there, but if you’re heading in a tube down the river, you have to know that rivers are not at summer water levels,” Marion County Deputy Dave Zahn said.
The North Santiam River has dangerous log jams in places and swift cold water, Zahn said. Rivers and lakes are also still cold, with water in the 50-60-degree range.
Sudden immersion in cold water can lead to muscles locking up and “an involuntary gasp reflex where a person breathes in water, which can lead to water in the lungs and drowning,” said Ashley Massey with the Oregon State Marine Board. “Most incidents and fatalities are caused by falling overboard or capsizing into cold water without a life jacket or the necessary skills for self-rescue. People need to always scout ahead, mind the tide, decide on the safest route and expect the unexpected.”
Oregon State Search and Rescue coordinator Scott Lucas emphasized the need for people to be prepared and equipped before they head outdoors. Late-season snowpack means trails may be covered at high elevation locations, making it easier to get lost.
“In the summer months, we find people who set out for a hike wearing flip flops and shorts and carrying no water,” he said. “They might take an unmarked trail or get disoriented, and they could be lost for days.”
Lucas stressed the importance of checking the basics like weather and road conditions, packing the proper gear, and confirming the destination is open before heading out.
“Many of the trails and parks people are familiar with are closed from wildfire or flood damages or from recent weather including high mountain snow,” he said. “Others haven’t been maintained for the last two years due to the pandemic. People need to respect these closures and stay out.”