Warning: Danger for unprepared participants in spring paddle sports is real

By: Terry Harris | Email: Click Here
Posted: Apr. 5, 2018 | 4:15 p.m.

WAKEFIELD – The National Weather Service in Wakefield and the U.S. Coast Guard have an important message for anyone who enjoys kayaking, canoeing, and paddleboarding: No matter how warm and sunny the day, if the water temperature is still below 60 degrees, the risk is great for anyone who falls into the water.

“We’re asking everyone to please help us spread the word on risk days by sharing our social media posts regarding the cold water danger to paddle sports,” said Jeff Orrock, Meteorologist in Charge at NOAA/NWS Wakefield, VA.  “We’re working with the USCG, alerting the public to “Paddle Craft Risk” days with the air temperatures warm above 60 degrees, but the water temperatures remain below 60 degrees.”

“We’re educating folks for themselves and for family members,” he added, “because parents need to be aware that with April and Early May temperatures warming up, but the water temperature still low, there’s only a certain amount of time, if they fall into the water, before they’re incapacitated, and it’s much  shorter than when the weather is warm.  So we’ll be putting up a post on social media the day before – like if it’s supposed to be 75 and warm tomorrow, but the water’s still in the 50s – basically saying ‘BE AWARE tomorrow, the water’s still cold.’”

Orrock said that on such days, individuals will be more likely to start to venture out on the water in small paddle crafts such as kayaks, canoes and paddle boards, totally aware of the potential danger should they fall into the water.

“There’s been a huge spike in the number of folks who have paddle type craft,” he added, “and we’ve seen an uptake in rescues from paddle craft. People go out in the water when it’s cold and don’t have the gear and can get hypothermic or drown before anyone can get to them.  When that water temp is anywhere below 60 the amount of time you have to get out is much shorter than you’d think.  You get outside, the water’s flat, seems beautiful – but the water is still cold, and it just saps your strength in a hurry.”

“Folks go up the rivers – in estuaries – here, going into the backwaters, because it’s FUN to go back there. But the waters still really cold back there.  There’s a table on our website,  and if the water temperature is 50 or 60 degrees, you probably only have about five minutes before you can’t really swim as much.  And on sunny days, like in April, it’s easy to get hot paddling out there and think it’s ok to take off your life jacket.  It’s not.  And there are a lot of folks on the water with limited experience with the water who just don’t realize the danger.”

“Cold water is very deceptive,” he continued, because the longer you’re in it the more comfortable it starts to feel – because you’re losing feeling.  You start to lose some of the sensitivity, your thinking is slower, your hands can’t keep up with your brain, your body’s lagging, everything’s slowing down.   So if you fall off a kayak and you’re trying to pull up but the water temperature’s 50 degrees, the blood migrates to core organs away from your muscles and you may not realize that your body’s getting weaker and weaker.  Pretty soon that cold water makes it so you won’t have the muscle power to help yourself – to get out.

“Springtime here you really have to watch the weather,” Orrock added.  “It’s really a BIG DEAL.  The  weather can change fast.  A day starts off nice, all of a sudden there are 30 knots out there, and just an hour change in wind direction can turn easily to a treacherous boating day. So be sure you know what the forecast is WHERE YOU’RE GOING and how that’s going to impact you – especially this time of year.  Anyone can go to weather.gov/wakefield for an hour by hour forecast.  And remember that if you’re going out in the water, weather apps aren’t designed for marine conditions, so read THOSE.  At  Weather.gov/wakefield there’s an interactive map you can click on and get the marine forecast for that area.    Click on the map and there’s a whole marine interface where folks can get all sorts of information.”

The Paddle Craft Risk program will be posting alerts on the NWS Wakefield Facebook and Twitter feeds using the hashtag #paddlecraftrisk to reminding the public of the risks and help keep springtime water sports fun – not deadly. For further information go to http://www.weather.gov/media/akq/marine/Paddle_Craft_Risk.pdf or call 757 899 4200.

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