Concern over dangerous river conditions ahead of Memorial Day Weekend

JOSEPHINE COUNTY, Ore. – With Boatnik and Memorial Day Weekend right around the corner, a lot of families are planning on hitting the water for the unofficial start of summer.

Rescue crews, however, worry about the current river conditions, specifically the Rogue River.

A combination of the higher-than-average snowpack and the recent hot weather has resulted in snowmelt adding to the river’s water levels.

Because of that, river temperatures are down in the low 50s, five-to-six degrees colder than normal, and water levels are high and fast.

The cold temperatures can easily cause hypothermia, and the high water can make it difficult to control a boat or raft and increase the risk of strainers where you could get trapped underneath the water.

Grants Pass Fire Rescue Battalion Chief Wayne Nelson said that things will look different this week out at Boatnik and elsewhere on the river.

“We urge caution when you’re out there next to the river,” Chief Nelson said. “It’s not going to look normal, it’s not going to feel normal, it’s going to move quicker. Even with life jackets, we’re seeing stuff getting swept down river quicker than we’re used to.”

Chief Nelson said that some of the places along the river where people watch the boat races are now gone because of the river conditions.

He said that the Illinois and Applegate rivers are both facing dangerous conditions as well.

Rural Metro held a water rescue training event last week on the Rogue River.

Chief Nelson said that it was a great time for the training so that crews could get some experience in the hazardous conditions.

“This is the perfect time to train when the water’s high, the water’s cold, people are starting to get out there a little bit,” Chief Nelson explained. “Just in our training, we were able to pull a couple people off the rocks… Just being out there on a constant basis like we’ve been, really lets us know how the river’s moving, how the river’s going.”

According to the Army Corp of Engineers, the cold river temperatures could remain for a few more weeks but should be back to normal as we get further into the summer.

“Once the snowpack is gone and we have the normal temperatures that we experience during the summer… you won’t see a long-lasting effect as far as temperatures go downstream,” Civil Engineer Kevin McAllister said. “Those long-lasting effects we’ll see those start to dwindle out in early-to-mid-June.”

If you are planning to be on the Rogue River this weekend, Chief Nelson recommends wearing a life jacket, not boating alone, and especially keeping an extra eye out for any young kids.

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Ethan McReynolds is a reporter and weekend anchor for NBC5 News. He grew up in Bothell, Washington and graduated from Gonzaga University with a degree in Broadcasting and minors in Journalism and Sport Management. At Gonzaga, he started his own sports podcast. Ethan loves rooting for his hometown Seattle sports teams, especially the Mariners. He loves playing baseball, basketball, and soccer. He is also an avid Taylor Swift fan.
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