Search and rescue teams warn Utahns about dangers of playing in floodwater

Mar 17, 2023, 7:55 AM
The Utah Department of Transportation temporarily closed U.S. 89 due to flash flooding. (Utah Highw...
The Utah Department of Transportation temporarily closed U.S. 89 due to flash flooding. (Utah Highway Patrol)
(Utah Highway Patrol)

UTAH COUNTY, Utah — With this year’s runoff expected to be higher than Utahns have seen in the last few years, search and rescue teams are getting ready for water rescues.

“We’re already thinking about it,” Steve Gorrell, a member of the Utah County Sheriff’s Office search and rescue team said. “We have some members of our team who work with the state on water, and they know what the snowpack is like and they know what the predictions are. We’re preparing for a big runoff this year.”

Rushing floodwaters after recent rains have closed roads in Southern Utah.

Some people living there have posted videos of people recreating in the floodwater, but search and rescue teams say this behavior comes at a risk.

“Most people think, “If I don’t see the thunderstorm right around me, I’m not going to be in danger of flash flooding, but flash flooding takes place from the thunderstorm that happened miles away and then it comes down that slot canyon or fills up something much quicker than they were expecting,” Gorrell said.

Gorrell said playing in rush floodwaters isn’t like swimming in open water.

“People think they’re strong enough or big enough, but very fast water…if you think of logs coming down or sticks or debris, that hits you and knocks you over and that’s very hard to get out from,” he said.

He knows firsthand how difficult the rescues can be.

“You need to start looking for an exit route,” Gorrell said. “As you’re hiking down somewhere or going through a canyon, you should be aware of where some places you might be able to get to high ground or get to an exit.”

He said these waters can outpace anyone.

“If it’s flowing fast enough, it could sweep you right off your feet,” Gorrell said.

He advises people to be aware of the forecast and stay away from areas where there’s a chance for flash flooding.

“If there’s a chance, you don’t want to be caught up in the chance,” he said.

Related: Don’t wait before floodwaters reach your home: Prepare now


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Search and rescue teams warn Utahns about dangers of playing in floodwater