With the Seattle heatwave arriving this weekend, water holes around the Puget Sound will be filled with people wanting to jump in. But beware, the water is still dangerously cold.
“Where are our water temperatures right now? I spent some time yesterday looking this up,” KIRO Newsradio meteorologist Ted Buehner said. “If we look at our rivers coming out of the Cascades, we have a lot of snow melt going on at this moment. It’s going to increase over this coming weekend with the warm weather. Those temperatures are only in the 40s.”
Buehner said Lake Washington and Lake Sammamish are in the mid-50s while the Puget Sound is just barely above 50 degrees.
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“If you accidentally fall in, that’s when you go into that cold water shock,” Buehner said. “It’s like walking into a cold shower and you inhale and that’s when you’re taking in water. And that’s what can rapidly lead to drownings, just in those opening seconds that you are in that water.”
Ron Sendak, Boat Program Manager at Washington State Parks, said their mission is to reduce fatalities and incidents in waterways.
“It’s called cold water shock, and it is a real thing,” he said. “And that is exactly what happens when it’s 80 or 90 degrees outside and people are like, ‘Oh, look how refreshing this jump is going to be.’ And time and time again, we see folks jumping into that water. And unfortunately, they don’t come up.”
Sendak said you only need a half cup of water in your lungs to drown.
In 2022, there were 18 reportable fatalities in recreational boating safety vessels. 83% of those deaths involved not wearing life jackets. A majority of those recreational boating fatalities were on human-powered watercraft such as paddle craft canoes, kayaks, and stand-up paddleboards.
“We want folks to wear life jackets,” he said. “We want folks to wear leashes and life jackets when they’re on stand-up paddleboards. It’s state law. 12-and-under, you must wear a life jacket when you are on a vessel.”
But water safety isn’t just about the open water. It’s also about swimming pools. Chezik Tsunoda lost her son in a pool full of people.
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“My three-year-old son Uri at some point was found in the water facedown. We were all in the pool at the time. This is often what happens, you are not watching, but you think someone else is watching, and that person thinks that you’re watching,” Tsunoda said. “So that experience just motivated me to start an organization called No More Under and we really focus on childhood drowning. We focus on equitable access to swimming. Black and brown folks are four to five times more likely to drown. We really want access to swimming and want to make sure that parents are aware of the things that we need to do around water safety.”
Tsunoda helped pass Uri’s Law, where every May 15 in Washington is Water Safety Day. She also has a movie coming out called Drowning in Silence.
“I’m hoping that this just shifts and changes our perspective around what it means to be safe and watch our families around water,” Tsunoda said. “It’s not just for my organization, but it’s really about anyone. If you’re out on a boat with your friends, know where they are in the water. If you’re out with family, make sure someone knows you’re going swimming.”
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