As temperatures finally begin to rise along the Puget Sound, King County officials urge residents to use extra caution when swimming this summer.
The water in local waterways including rivers, lakes and beaches will be colder than usual because of the large snowpack and cold spring temperatures, according to the King County Department of Natural Resources and Parks.
The mid-June central Cascade Range snowpack is 300% more than normal and snowmelt is still being added to local rivers as of June 21, according to the King County Department of Natural Resources.
In addition to lower water temperatures, the larger than normal snowpack means rivers are running higher and stronger than usual, creating more hazards for swimmers.
“We know rivers will run cold and fast well into summer, and lakes will stay cold longer than normal, which can all be deadly for people who are unprepared,” Public Health’s Violence and Injury Prevention Manager Tony Gomez said. “Washington waters are often cold enough to cause cold water shock, even on a hot summer day. Cold water can quickly weaken even the strongest swimmer.”
Last year there were 29 preventable drownings in King County alone, and 15 of them were in open water — and most could have been prevented by a life jacket, according to the King County Department of Natural Resources.
The county recommends people wear lifejackets when swimming at a body of water where a lifeguard is not present.
“A drowning does not look like a drowning you see on TV or in the movies,” said Sgt. Richard Barton of the King County Sheriff’s Marine Rescue Dive Unit. “People are not flailing around or splashing the water. They are doing the dog paddle and not moving or gaining forward momentum. So, if you see this action, do something, reach out to them with anything, a pole, a towel, an ice chest. If they are farther out, throw something to them like a rope or a life jacket of some sort. And please, wear a life jacket. I responded to seven drowning incidents last season. They were all preventable if the person had just worn a lifejacket.”