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Frigid water poses danger

Jay Hamburger OF THE RECORD STAFF

It seems that the Park City area will not succumb to major flooding from melting snow but emergency officials are nonetheless warning people to stay away from waterways.

They say that the frigid water, freshly melted from the winter’s snow pack, is dangerous if someone falls in and it holds the possibility of quickly incapacitating someone.

"Cold water like that affects how you’re able to maneuver," says Tricia Hurd, the spokeswoman for the Park City Fire District, which provides emergency medical services on the West Side of Summit County. "You’re just not able to move as well."

Hurd says that someone believing that they can swim in frigid water like they normally do is wrong. She says that that a body cools 25 percent faster in water than it does when it is dry.

She says that, in 35-degree water, a person will suffer moderate hypothermia, a lack of muscle control and exhaustion within minutes. Within 15 to 30 minutes, a person can lose consciousness in water that temperature, she says.

Hurd says that the fire district has not had recent cases of people falling into frigid water but says that her agency and the Summit County Sheriff’s Office have the capability to conduct rescues.

"Thinking that you can save yourself and swim to the edge is not as easy as it seems," Hurd says.

City Hall recently issued a statement warning people of what the government describes as a "high water danger." The city says that Park City’s streams are peaking and will be running at "very high levels."

The city urges parents to warn their kids abut the dangers and that "extreme caution should be exercised." It says that officials have received reports that kids were seen playing in or near streams like McLeod Creek and Poison Creek.

"High water runoff can cause dangerous conditions. We urge all parents to watch and warn their children to the dangers caused by this runoff," City Hall’s statement says.

Mark Offret, the superintendent of Summit County Public Works, meanwhile, says that the high streams did not substantially crest their banks but says that there were minor problems in Silver Springs and Ranch Place, where crews had to remove debris from creeks.

"They were getting a little nervous and most of those were taken care of by moving debris out of the waterway," Offret says, predicting that there will not be bad floods from the melting snow. "It’s not looking really serious from here on out. I don’t think it’s going to be a major flood year, from runoff, anyway."

Still, the cold water is of concern to the officials, including Brian McInerney, a hydrologist for the National Weather Service. He provides information similar to that of the fire district. McInerney agrees that a person will have trouble getting out of cold water. He says that four people in Utah have drowned this spring.

"It just takes your breath away," McInerney says of the cold water, adding, "The clock is running once you fall in. You have to get out quickly."

McInerney concurs with Offret that it seems that there will not be bad flooding in Summit County from the melting snow. He says that the snow pack, about 120 percent of normal, melted at an orderly pace. He says lower and middle elevations are clear of snow and there is not enough snow at higher elevations to cause flooding.

"As far as flooding from snowmelt, we’ve reached our peak and are on our way down," he says.


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