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Sunny, warm weather on its way, and cold rivers, lakes, and Sound require caution

Summary

While warm, sunny days are expected across King County this weekend, lakes, rivers and Puget Sound remain dangerously cold, and health and safety officials urge caution around open water.

Story

With temperatures expected to reach 80 degrees this weekend and the annual boating season under way, King County health and safety officials are urging everyone to be safe around open water.

Springtime water temperatures are quite cold, and cold-water shock can quickly overwhelm an unprepared swimmer in rivers, lakes and Puget Sound.

Warm weather early in the season raises concern for river managers and emergency responders, who note that higher river flows and lower water temperatures this time of year can be a dangerous combination for swimmers.

“Take advantage of pools for safer swimming. If you do go on the river or lake, lifejackets should be standard equipment,” said Dr. Jeff Duchin, Interim Health Officer for Public Health – Seattle & King County.

“I urge everyone to use caution when going into the water,” said King County Sheriff John Urquhart. “Wearing a lifejacket while having fun on the water should be second nature – like clicking your safety belt when getting into a car, or snapping on a helmet when going for a bike ride.”

“Always wear a lifejacket. Rivers are dangerous year-round, but especially in the springtime due to cold water and faster flows,” said Christie True, Director of the King County Department of Natural Resources and Parks. “And it’s important to understand that river systems are constantly changing, with rocks and submerged trees shifting and presenting new hazards from year to year.”

A King County study of recreational river use along the Cedar River in 2011 confirmed the widely held notion that summer recreation is largely determined by warmer temperatures.

When temperatures are in the 70s, there are likely to be people floating on the river. When temperatures reach 80 degrees or higher, floating, swimming and other recreational river use along rivers increases dramatically.

King County, Public Health – Seattle & King County, and the King County Sheriff’s Office encourage kayakers, boaters, rafters, swimmers and other river users to check conditions and scout rivers thoroughly for hazards before entering the water. Sometimes the best plan is to not enter the water.

For details about river safety, visit www.kingcounty.gov/riversafety. For more information on water safety and drowning prevention, visit the King County Water Safety website, www.kingcounty.gov/healthservices/health/injury/water.

Statistics

• In 2014, Public Health – Seattle & King County found that 15 people died in preventable drowning incidents – and nine of them occurred in open water, such as rivers, lakes, ponds, or Puget Sound.
• Eight of the deaths could have been prevented with lifejacket use.
• Half of all deaths involved alcohol and/or other drugs.
• Drowning is the second leading cause of unintentional injury death for children and teens age 1-17 in Washington.

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