Temperatures are rising in New England this week and while it’s expected to only keep getting warmer, you’ll want to watch out for bodies of water that are still pretty cold, according to the National Weather Service.
As part of Cold Water Safety Week, the weather service warned that warmer temperatures can create a false sense of security for individuals who want to go swimming or boating.
“Warm air doesn’t always mean warm water in lakes, streams or oceans,” their website read. “Fifty-five-degree water may not sound very cold, but it can be deadly. Plunging into cold water of any temperature becomes dangerous if you aren’t prepared for what the sudden exposure can do to your body and brain.”
A tweet from the weather service said the risks of being submerged in cold water include a loss of muscle control in about 10 minutes. This can increase the risk of death, so always wear a life vest while on the water.
“The only difference between life and death in cold water may be your life jacket,” the tweet read.
When submerged in cold water, body heat can be lost four times faster than in cold air, the weather service said. Water at temperatures between 50 and 60 degrees can be just as lethal through cold shock as water at 35 degrees.
Symptoms of cold shock include cognitive impairment, heart and blood pressure problems that can increase heart failure and strokes among vulnerable people, and two to three minutes or more of rapid breathing or gasping for breath.
Another severe danger of cold water is hypothermia. After one to three minutes of immersion, a person’s body temperature will drop increasingly to the point where the person could drown. Impaired thinking and motor skills make staying afloat without assistance or self-rescue virtually impossible, the weather service said.
Along with a life vest, the weather service urges dressing for “water temperature, not for air temperature.” Appropriate examples include a wet suit, a dry suit, an immersion suit, a survival suit or exposure overalls.
Anyone who finds themself in a situation where they are immersed in cold water should adhere to the following tips provided by the National Weather Service.
- Stay calm.
- Minimize time in the water. Get out as soon as possible safely. If possible, utilize any floating objects to get out of the water. Keep as much of your body out of the water as possible.
- Evaluate your options. If you can swim to safety, stay calm and do so. If you cannot swim to safety, conserve energy and heat and await rescue.
- If you cannot get to safety, assume the Heat Escape Lessening Position, or H.E.L.P. This protects the critical body areas and slows down the loss of heat. Draw your knees to your chin and keep your legs together. Press both arms against your side and keep your head out of the water.
- If possible, form a huddle in the water with others to conserve body heat.
For more information on how to stay safe in cold water, visit the National Weather Service’s cold water hazards page.