There's lots of interest in heading to rivers and waterways with the weather warming up in North Central Washington. 

There are also hazards with the water because it's extremely cold and flowing rapidly because of snow melt this time of year. 

Okanogan Wenatchee National Forest spokesperson Robin DeMario says water levels in rivers can vary and be especially high this time of year. 

"Keep in mind it's not uncommon for rivers to rise during warm afternoons as snow melts or during spring storms," said DeMario. "So be prepared for high water levels, higher water levels than what you may have encountered earlier in the day." 

Anybody who is venturing into the water is strongly advised to wear appropriate cold-water gear and use a personal floatation device that is well-fitted to your body. 

There are dangers when getting into exceptionally cold water, which is now the condition of waterways in the Okanogan Wenatchee National Forest and North Central Washington. 

According to the National Weather Service, cold water quickly removes heat from the body which could lead to cold water shock within the first minute, loss of muscle control within 10 minutes or hypothermia within 20 to 30 minutes. 

When the human body hits cold water, “cold shock” can cause dramatic changes in breathing, heart rate and blood pressure. The sudden gasp and rapid breathing alone create a greater risk of drowning even for confident swimmers in calm waters. 

Meanwhile, anybody hiking on a trail in the National Forest can easily come across creeks and streams, which are also very cold and fast moving. 

DeMario says crossing streams can be tricky. 

"It's always a good idea to have three points of contact when you're crossing a creek or a stream," Demario said. "Use walking poles or sticks, and make sure that you have that good contact as you're going from rock to rock, let's say, making those steps." 

Other reminders when crossing creeks and streams while hiking: 

When crossing on a natural bridge of rocks or logs, consider where you will land if you fall. Never cross above rapids or waterfalls. 

Always keep a close eye on children and pets when near any body of water. 

A good resource for trail conditions before venturing on a hike, especially in the back country, is the Washington Trails Association. 

Counties with the worst droughts in Washington

Washington State is continuing its drought emergency into 2024, citing low snowpack and hot, dry forecasts. Here are the counties most affected by drought, based on data from the U.S. Drought Monitor to identify the counties in Washington with the worst droughts in the week leading up to April 30, 2024.
Note: "Abnormally dry" is not considered to be a drought, but is included as a separate data point.

Gallery Credit: Jaime Skelton

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