Massive waterfalls in Yosemite National Park and rivers raging in mountains throughout the western United States are thundering with greater force than they have for years – and proving deadly as warm weather melts the deepest mountain snowpack in recent memory.
Record snowfall on towering Western peaks this winter virtually eliminated California’s five-year drought and it is now melting rapidly.
But it has contributed to at least 14 river deaths and prompted officials to close sections of rivers popular with swimmers, rafters and fishing enthusiasts.
n Utah and Wyoming, some rivers gorged by heavy winter snowfall have overflown their banks and rivers in Utah are expected to remain dangerously swollen with icy mountain runoff for several more weeks.
The sheer beauty of the rivers is their draw – and represents a big danger to people who decide to risk selfies near the water or beat the heat by swimming or rafting with little awareness of the risks posed by the raging water.
This year’s velocity and force of the Merced River that runs through Yosemite Valley is similar to a runaway freight train, said Moose Mutlow of the Yosemite Swift Water Rescue Team.
‘You step out in front of it, it’s going to take you,’ he said.
‘You’re not going to stop that, and that’s what people need to get their heads around.’
Heavy storms this winter covered the central Sierra Nevada mountains with snow that remains at twice its normal level for this time of year.
While officials celebrated an end to drought in much of California, the snowmelt is so dangerous that park rangers fear its impact on the crowded park that drew a record five million people last year, when four people drowned.