Warm days, especially with temperatures hovering in the lower 80s this weekend, can lead to plenty of recreational temptation, especially on the water.
Marine deputies and weather officials have a message for those enjoying the warm weather near water: river and lake temperatures remain cold enough to present potentially serious health risks to swimmers, rafters and water skiers.
“We want everyone to enjoy the warmer weather that we are expecting this weekend,” said Todd Wingfield, marine patrol deputy for the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office. “As people head out to the waterways, we remind everyone that even though the outside temperatures may be warm, the waterways, especially the rivers, remain extremely cold.”
Continuing melting of the snowpack in the eastern Douglas County Cascade Mountains has helped keep the North Umpqua River cold enough to cause serious health concerns. As of Friday morning, the North Umpqua River at Winchester Dam measured 52 degrees.
The South Umpqua River west of Winston was at 67 degrees, while the mainstem Umpqua near Elkton measured 64 degrees.
While that may seem pleasant enough, those temperatures still pose a health threat to some individuals.
“Cold water immersion can create an immediate emergency which can lead to hypothermia and drownings,” Wingfield said.
The National Center for Cold Water Safety says that water below 77 degrees is cold enough to affect breathing. By comparison, the average water temperature in Olympic swimming pools ranges between 77 and 82 degrees.
Once water drops below 70 degrees, controlling one’s breathing or holding their breath for extended periods grows increasingly difficult. Once the water hits 60 degrees — which the Center classifies as “very dangerous” or “immediately life-threatening” — cold shock kicks in. Once a person experiences cold shock, breathing control can be completely lost, including the inability to control gasping or hyperventilating.
Between 50 and 60 degrees, the effects of cold shock are just as extreme as if the water was 35 degrees.
“Most people who are unaccustomed to cold water will experience a maximum cold shock response somewhere between 50-60 (degrees Fahrenheit),” the Center said on its site, coldwatersafety.org. “For some individuals, this happens at 57 (degrees), for others, the peak occurs at 52 (degrees) and so on.”
Full and sudden unprotected immersion into cold water can lead to sudden or gradual drowning, as the initial shock to the body can cause one to panic, breathing water into their lungs. Inhaling as much as 5 ounces of water into the lungs is enough to cause drowning.
In more extreme cases, cold water shock can lead to heart attack or stroke.
Those who insist on recreating in area rivers and lakes during this present stretch of warm weather are encouraged to employ proper safety practices, including life jackets. Wetsuits, if available, are also recommended.