With hotter temperatures, flood risks abound throughout Utah

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Communities across Utah are preparing for floods as temperatures this week heat up into the 90s and mountain snowpack starts a rapid melt, but officials say major damage will likely be avoided.The National Weather Service has issued flood watches for most of central and northern Utah along stretches of Little Cottonwood Creek, Big Cottonwood Creek, and the Weber, Provo, Duchesne and Bear rivers. Several areas are already above flood stage.Mountain snowpack in some areas is up to 500 percent above normal levels. Officials have been warning for weeks of the potential for major flooding if the weather warmed rapidly, but they now say much of the snow has melted gradually over time and the major threats are gone.”We feel we’ve reduced a good chunk of the snowpack that has melted off the past week, but we still have enough to create floods,” said Brian McInerney, a National Weather Service hydrologist. “The hot temperatures have arrived and we still have a sizeable snowpack, but it’s not the monstrous snowpack that we had two weeks ago.”McInerney said most residents should expect just minor to moderate flooding. He said some areas will very likely see water damage to homes and structures close to waterways, as well as flooded fields. Erosion has also already started causing some damage to structures downstream along the Duchesne River.If the same amount of snow remained in the mountains as was there just two weeks ago, McInerney said, “We would have seen major, widespread flooding, but we’re not.”Still, officials and residents across the state are preparing by piling sandbags around homes and along river and creek banks. And water remains high and fast-flowing, creating dangerous conditions.Since May 29, six people have drowned in Utah rivers. This week, a 2-year-old boy nearly drowned in the Virgin River near Zion National Park. He remained hospitalized Thursday in Salt Lake City, and doctors were optimistic about his recovery.In neighboring Nevada, no drownings have been reported but flood watches were in effect in rural parts of north-central Nevada on Thursday. And the Truckee River’s roaring waters flowing out of Lake Tahoe were keeping emergency crews busy in the Reno-Sparks area.The Reno Fire Department’s water entry team surpassed its normal 40 calls for an entire year on Wednesday due to the heavy snowpack in the Sierra that is melting later than usual. Team director Matt Peek said the team has had 15 calls since the heat wave moved in over the weekend, including five calls on Tuesday and four on Wednesday.Sparks Fire Department spokesman Bob King said the river is too dangerous for most people to enter right now, especially beginners.”It’s too fast and way too cold,” he said.

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