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Exercise caution around cold rivers, lakes | King County

With sunny skies and temperatures expected to rise, King County officials are urging everyone to be careful when heading out for fun on the water.

The cool, wet winter and spring left a heavy mantle of snow across the Cascade Range, and warmer temperatures means rivers will be swift with icy cold snowmelt for weeks to come.

Lakes and Puget Sound aren’t much warmer options for a swim: Cold-water shock can set in after a matter of minutes in any body of water.

“I urge everyone to use caution when going into the water,” said King County Sheriff John Urquhart in a press release. “Don’t drink, and always wear a life jacket.”

When temperatures are in the 70s, there are likely to be floaters on the river. When temperatures reach 80 or higher, floating, swimming and other recreational river use along rivers increases dramatically.

While most of those hot days occur in July and August, it is not unprecedented to have 80 degree weather in May and June – and those early months carry the most concern for river managers and emergency responders.

Flows are typically colder in late spring and early summer than later in the recreational use season, increasing the potential for cold-water shock in unprepared river users.

Higher flows in spring and summer increase velocities and decrease a river user’s reaction time to dangerous situations – including potential concealed hazards such as rocks and logs.

Seasonal flooding might have shifted rocks and logs, creating potential hazards this year where there were none last year.

“Rivers can change dramatically from year to year, with trees, rocks and other potential hazards being present this year where there were no such apparent hazards last year,” said Christie True, director of the King County Department of Natural Resources and Parks, in the release.

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