Many are missing or dead due to the snowmelt in California


California’s historic 2023 snowpack is melting. Billions of gallons of freezing water are pouring from the mountains, creating treacherous conditions on the state’s rivers and claiming scores of lives as some areas face more flooding in the coming days.

That winter, the Sierra Nevada recorded a whopping 677 inches of snow, the second-highest snowfall in California history. And despite repeated warnings from authorities, several swimmers and raftsmen have drowned in the rushing, cold water.

Reported deaths and disappearances in the last month include:

On April 19, a teenager was found dead on a remote stretch of the South Yuba River in Nevada County. CBS Sacramento reported that the drowning victim was among a group of four experienced kayakers who took to the water near Bridgeport, California, that afternoon. The boy was taken by a CHP helicopter to an area where paramedics could treat him, but was pronounced dead at the scene.

On April 28, a 25-year-old man went missing after reportedly venturing into the rushing waters of Tulare County’s Kaweah River to save two other swimmers. A 7-year-old child and a man were rescued from a rock in mid-river near the Slick Rock recreation area, but the 25-year-old man has not yet been found, the Tulare County Sheriff’s Office said. Before wading into the river, he reportedly told a friend, “If it were my daughter, I wish someone would help her, too.” The sheriff’s office then closed large stretches of the Kaweah, Kern, and Tule rivers due of deadly conditions.

On April 29, a man was swept away in the American River in Auburn. The man reportedly jumped into the river with a group of friends that night, the Placer County Sheriff’s Office told SFGATE. Just the day before, the sheriff’s office urged the public to stay away from the water due to a combination of debris from the Mosquito Fire, roaring snowmelt and freezing temperatures. “It’s different. It’s colder. It’s a lot more dangerous,” said Sgt. Kevin Griffiths said. “Stay away from the river.” The man has not yet been found.

On May 13, 38-year-old Billy Moore disappeared while floating down the Tule River near Springville in the Sierra foothills, the Tulare County Sheriff’s Office said. He was last seen in an area just downstream of the blocked stretch of river.

On May 14, a man went missing after jumping or falling into the North Fork of the American River. The Lake County Record-Bee reports that the man was last seen at a popular swimming spot near Yankee Jim’s Bridge. Three days earlier, the Placer County Sheriff’s Office issued a public safety advisory about “deadly river water.” “Water flows across the American River are expected to exceed 8,000 cubic feet per second this weekend — equivalent to a force of about 64,000 pounds continuously flowing down the river,” the sheriff’s office said. “If you get yanked in, there’s a big chance you won’t get out.”

The extreme conditions are not over yet. The National Weather Service issued a warning on Tuesday that rising temperatures in California will further accelerate snowmelt in the coming days. “Avoid streams and rivers as they flow fast, cold and high,” the special weather statement said. “Although jumping into the rivers to cool off may seem like a good idea, the water is extremely cold and shock can quickly occur, resulting in loss of motor function.”

Yosemite is also preparing for flooding. Three campgrounds in the valley were closed this week amid fears the Merced River could burst its banks. “Do not approach or enter any river or creek in Yosemite; They are extremely dangerous,” park officials wrote on Facebook.

This spring’s floods follow three of the driest years on record in the state. “This year’s severe storms and flooding are the latest example of California’s climate becoming more extreme,” Karla Nemeth, director of the California Department of Water Resources, said in a recent statement. “…We have provided flood relief to many communities that were facing severe drought just a few months ago.”

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