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Stay safe near waterbodies! Officials warn that warm weather, icy cold water is a recipe for serious danger

Summary

With sunshine and warm temperatures expected Friday and through the weekend, King County officials are reminding everyone to use caution around waterbodies that remain extremely cold this time of year, including rivers, lakes, and Puget Sound. Adding to the concern is the possibility of rescues that may add to the strain on emergency services at this time.

Story

A forecast of sunshine and temperatures reaching 80 degrees or more over the weekend may entice people visiting King County's lakes, rivers or Puget Sound to jump in and cool off. That’s extremely risky behavior at this time of year – when water bodies are extra cold and rivers are running high.

Officials are also concerned such risky behavior will stretch the region’s emergency services when they are needed for COVID-19 response.

Warm air temperatures don't translate to warm water temperatures, and even the strongest swimmers can become incapacitated from cold-water shock after just a few minutes in the water, whether it's in a river, lake or Puget Sound.

What’s more, rivers in King County – already running swift and high from snowpack run-off -- experienced several large floods over the winter, moving wood and rocks, and undercutting riverbanks.

King County, Public Health – Seattle & King County, and the King County Sheriff's Office encourage kayakers, boaters, rafters and swimmers to use extra caution when near open water, and to always wear a life jacket.

“Not only will rivers be running swift and icy cold for weeks to come, but they are dynamic systems that change from year to year. With the flooding we had this winter it is likely that your favorite boating reach or your favorite swimming hole from a year ago could be much more dangerous places this spring with high water and unexpected hazards,” said Christie True, Director of the King County Department of Natural Resources and Parks. 

“We are expecting a very warm weekend, but we want people to be aware the water remains very cold this time of year,” said Sheriff Mitzi G. Johanknecht. “With the continued strain on emergency services due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we continue to urge people to be extra cautious while enjoying the outdoors.” 

"Even the strongest swimmer’s energy could be lost after just a few seconds in the bone-chilling waters of our lakes, rivers and Puget Sound,” said Patty Hayes, Director of Public Health – Seattle & King County. “Please remember to always wear a life jacket when on the water, and to maintain physical distancing by only recreating with those who live with you.”

Similar to other outdoor recreation, people gathering along riverbanks, shorelines and beaches should adhere to social distancing guidelines:

Keep your distance. Recreate with those in your household. Give others plenty of room and communicate who will step aside on the trail (trail etiquette gives hikers coming uphill the right of way)
Stay local. Don’t stray too far from home when recreating and keep rural communities safe by minimizing stops and bringing all that you’ll need for your outing.
Keep it moving. Use parks and trails for walking, running, riding, rolling, and passing through.
Plan ahead. Be prepared to go somewhere else if your destination seems crowded. Add hand sanitizer and a mask or other face covering to your 10 Essentials.
Play it safe. Keep your activities within your comfort and skill level to reduce the risk of injury and adding to the strain on our health care and emergency services.
Leave no trace. Take any garbage with you, including disposable face masks and gloves.

For safety information related to boating, swimming, rivers and pools, as well as discounts and information on lifejackets, go to kingcounty.gov/watersafety.

Contacts:

King County Department of Natural Resources and Parks – Logan Harris, 206-477-4516
King County Sheriff’s Office – Sgt. Ryan Abbott, 206-255-0778
Public Health – Seattle & King County – phpio@kingcounty.gov