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River floaters cautioned against cold, high water

By Andrea Olson, KECI Reporter, aolson@keci.com
Published On: Jul 03 2014 06:29:38 PM MDT
Updated On: Jul 03 2014 06:49:30 PM MDT
MISSOULA, Mont. -

It's that time of the year again -- when floaters hit the rivers and enjoy the summer, but officials point out there are some safety concerns to be aware of.

It's hot outside but that doesn't necessarily mean river water is warm.

"The Clark Fork River temperatures are probably in that 50 to 60-degree range right now," said Ray Nickless, a Montana hydrologist.

This time last year, the Clark Fork River was more in the 60 to 70-degree range, making it a lot warmer. Water levels are higher from the snowmelt this year, which leaves officials asking floaters to take caution.

Since the water is still very cold, officials are warning that if your skin is exposed to the water for more than 30 minutes, you could have symptoms of hypothermia.

"When you get into that water and it's just brutally cold and you start to shiver and stuff, then it's probably a good time to get out and get on land and warm up," said Nickless.

Two floaters at the Sha-Ron river access planned their trip ahead of time and talked with experts at the Trailhead to make sure they would be OK for Thursday’s float.

"Typically, we would go out on tubes if we wanted to cool off, but the waters may be a little too cool today and with it being a little faster and higher, we wanted to have a water craft where we had a little bit more control," said Beth Eldridge.

Another resident told us he has seen a friend experience symptoms of hypothermia in the past, after jumping into the river when it was 100 degrees outside.

"He had purple lips and he was shaking," said Missoula resident Doug Jones.

The Missoula County Sheriff's Office reminds people to always be cautious.

"Use your common sense, use your best judgment, don't drink too much alcohol, have a safe ride. Be cognizant of where you’re parking your vehicles and don't jump off of local bridges," said Paige Pavalone, the Public Information Officer with the Missoula County Sheriff’s Office.

Additionally, floaters should always stay in groups.

If you have signs of hypothermia -- shivering, lack of coordination, slurred speech, slow, shallow breathing, or a weak pulse, get out of the water as soon as you can. Remove wet clothing and get in blankets. You should also call 9-1-1.