Heavy rains cause hazards on north Alabama waterways

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) - The spring air may be drawing you outdoors, but heavy rains have created hazards on some of north Alabama's waterways.

Rough waters and fallen trees led to the drowning death of a 54-year-old Huntsville woman on the Sipsey River near Double Springs over the weekend.

Experienced paddlers caution heavy April rains can turn even the most familiar waters into a treacherous pass.

"After a heavy rain, an easy river you've paddled 10 times before becomes a different river," said Jim Schwaiger, a member of the Huntsville Canoe Club. "It becomes faster, it goes in different places, goes up against the banks, outside the banks, goes between the trees."

Schwaiger says understanding the nature of any body of water is paramount to safety. There are the obvious dangers of fallen trees and visible rocks, but even more dangers can be out of sight.

"There are also dangers below the water's surface that can be hard to understand and see if you haven't been out there and experienced it."

This is why Schwaiger says community is so important, especially for novices. Going out with other experienced paddlers who know the waterway and can offer guidance as you go, can be the best way to learn how to react in an emergency situation.

"It's not a formulaic thing," Schwaiger explained. "Each person has to evaluate the situation, decide how they can help in a safe way, and that's not something that's easy to do or easy to lay out."

Schwaiger recommends groups like Huntsville Canoe Club for updates on river conditions, as well as organized outings and safety classes. Another resource he suggests is Alabamawhitewater.com.