Rivers May Seem Inviting as Weather Warms Up but Officials Say ‘Be Safe’

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SACRAMENTO COUNTY -- After a couple of days of warm weather, there were already two reports of river outings that turned tragic.

The missing girl in the Stanislaus River and the body of a man recovered from the American River near Auburn serve as painful reminders that some of our greatest natural treasures are more dangerous than people may realize.

"The American River is cold year-round but especially this time of year and in early spring when people are really eager to get out on the water after a cold winter and to feel the sun," said Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District Capt. Chris Vestal.

FOX40 met up with Vestal at the American River near the Nimbus Dam.

"Today the water is at 48 degrees and water that’s less than 77 degrees can affect your respiratory system and your muscular system within only one minute of exposure," he said.

With the Sierra snowpack above average, the rivers are going to be running high, swift and cold during a prolonged period of snowmelt this spring and summer.

"That’s one of the beauties of Sacramento," Vestal told FOX40. "We have this great river, we have this great weather, the American River Parkway trail system. So we want everybody to go out and enjoy it but be safe."

Vestal said alcohol is often involved in the drownings on our area rivers, along with the risky decision to enter the water without a personal flotation device. It's something FOX40 didn't see anybody wearing Monday afternoon at the American River confluence.

"So if you’re going to be in the water, make sure you have all your faculties about you, that you’re a strong swimmer, that you’re not impaired," Vestal said.

If you're struggling in the water time may not be on your side.

"So by the time we get here, somebody’s already been exposed to that cold water. It only takes less than a minute to start having some kind of compromise," Vestal said. "And then the other thing is the flow. This water is moving fast. Just because it looks calm on top, it could be something incredibly different below that surface."

Also if you're swept downriver you could become snagged on underwater obstacles.

"You could get your foot stuck in a rock and then water is going to push you down, push your head underneath sub-surface," Vestal said. "And once that happens, not only can we not find you, but you’re going to drown. So we really need you to wear a PFD, stay above the water level."

These are things some might not like to think about but the knowledge can save your life.

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