May is most dangerous months for drowning in Washington

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by GLENN FARLEY / KING 5 News

Bio | Email | Follow: @GlennFarley

KING5.com

Posted on May 3, 2013 at 6:46 PM

Updated Friday, May 3 at 7:00 PM

NORTH BEND - The Snoqualmie river is running fast, as  warmer air  temperatures melt snow in the Cascade mountains.

Using a laser thermometer, we found the water temperature at 33 degrees  - that's barely above freezing.  But unless you had a thermometer or put your hand in it the rushing water, you might not know just how cold it was just to look at it.  The danger is too many people fall in. 

Already in 2013, four people have drown in Washington.  Two involved kayaks, one a canoe and one  a small motor boat.  That's actually less than 2012 at this time, which was up to nine. With 32 boating related deaths in Washington, 2012 went down as the worst year in over a decade, according to the State Parks Recreational Boating Safety Program.

If you had to guess which month claimed the most lives to boating deaths, you might think of July, which is the month when warmer weather finally settles in.  You'd be close, but you would be wrong. May edges out out according to the state parks department data base.

The problem, say experts, is the mix between those warmer air temperatures that finally arrive, and cold water temperatures that area stuck in the 30s and 40s.

And if you fall in the water, what kills is not just hypothermia - many people succumb to "cold water shock."  That's when hitting the water causes a person to gasp, and if that  gasp comes under water,  the process of drowning begins. 

Rivers present additional hazards from swift current that can trap a person underwater from fallen trees and exposed roots and rocks - hazards that can crop up from a winter of rain and flooding.

Life jackets prevent a person from inhaling water from cold water shock by keeping a person's head above water.  But exposure to the cold can lead to hypothermia, where the body's core temperature drops, leading to death, and cold incapacitation, where the body's attempt to maintain its core temperature reduces blood flow to hands and feet, limiting a person's ability to self-rescue.

 

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