The Green River, where a swimmer was swept away and drowned the summer of 2022. Image courtesy Enumclaw Fire Department.

The Green River, where a swimmer was swept away and drowned the summer of 2022. Image courtesy Enumclaw Fire Department.

Don’t let the heat fool you: Rivers pose cold-water threat this time of year

Advice from local rescue agencies on how to stay safe while cooling off.

As the Pacific Northwest reaches late May, western Washington is hitting some of its finest outdoor weather of the year.

This time of year, families are itching to play outside, hike or spend a day on the water to cool off.

Unfortunately, there’s a morbid aspect to this time of year. It’s also when cities and counties across western Washington tend to see an uptick in accidental deaths from people trying to swim at local creeks and rivers.

Warm, sunny weather can create a false sense of security for swimmers and boaters, according to the weather service. But rivers this time of year run very high, very fast, and extremely cold.

Take it from the small army of local fire departments who plead with summer revelers every spring to be cautious on the water.

“We are begging everyone to choose a lake or pool to swim at and NOT the local rivers,” the Enumclaw Fire Department posted May 12 on Facebook.

“Every year, around this time, we respond to rescues that often end as tragic fatalities due to the treacherous conditions found when swimming in rivers,” the fire department said. “Rivers are VERY dangerous in the Spring, here in the Pacific Northwest, even for the strongest swimmers! The water runs high and fast and is extremely cold! Log jams and debris can cause ‘strainers’ that can pull swimmers under or trap them.”

Cold water drains body heat up to four times faster than cold air, according to the Weather Service, and “cold shock” from plunging into cold water creates a greater risk of drowning even for confident swimmers in calm waters. The risk only increases in rougher, debris-filled waters and for less experienced swimmers. Once you have lost muscle strength and coordination from cold water, it gets even harder to navigate to safety in choppy waters.

“Please be very cautious this weekend, wear a life jacket, keep an eye on your children at all times, and do not over estimate your ability to swim and safely exit the water,” South King Fire and Rescue said May 12 on Facebook.

There are plenty of ways to stay safe and still get your swimming in, like a lake or pool with lifeguards. Life jackets are highly affordable options for anyone on the water. Wet or dry suits are also a good investment for swimming in less-than-warm water.

If you find yourself in an emergency on the water, follow this advice from the U.S. Coast Guard:

• Stay calm.

• Get out of the water ASAP, using floating objects if possible. In the meantime, 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 can’t, conserve energy and heat and await rescue.

• The “Heat Escape Lessening Position” (HELP) slows down the loss of heat from your body in water: Draw your knees to your chin and keep your legs together, and press both arms against your side, keeping your head out of the water. If in a group, form a huddle to conserve heat.

To treat yourself or someone who was submerged in cold water:

• Call 911.

• Gently move the person somewhere warm.

• Monitor their breathing and circulation, and give rescue breathing or CPR if needed.

• Remove wet clothing and dry them off.

• Warm them slowly by wrapping blankets around them or putting on dry clothing. You can also use hot water bottles or chemical hot packs; just wrap them in a towel or blanket first.

• DO NOT warm them too quickly or immerse them in warm water, which could increase the risk of heart arrhythmia.

• Warm the core first, not the extremities. Warming hands and feet first can cause shock.

Talk to us

Please share your story tips by emailing

To share your opinion for publication, submit a letter through our website Include your name, address and daytime phone number. (We’ll only publish your name and hometown.) Please keep letters to 300 words or less.

More in News

Bridges neighborhood. File photo
Auburn authorizes annexation of Bridges neighborhood

Kent annexed the Bridges neighborhood of Lea Hill in 1987, making it a part of Kent that was not contiguous to its city boundaries. Auburn’s 2008 annexation of Lea Hill made the neighborhood an island of Kent surrounded on all sides by Auburn.

The current city of Kent maintenance shops along South 240th Street. City leaders plan to open a new Kent East Hill Operations Center in late 2025 or early 2026. FILE PHOTO, Kent Reporter
New city of Kent East Hill Operations Center takes a major step

City Council approves $5.4 million contract for pre-engineered metal building

Kentridge High librarian wins WEA’s Student Involvement Award

Gavin Downing says he tries to make library welcoming and usable

Two men injured in shootout at Auburn Chevron; one man fled to Kent

Confrontation between the two men reportedly led to shooting Sept. 19 along Auburn Way North

The site of where the Lones Levee was cleared on Green River to restore salmon habitat. Photo by Cameron Sheppard/Sound Publishing
King County salmon habitat recovery projects receive state funding

The state awarded 66 grants totaling $53.7 million to projects in and around Puget Sound.

Recruits learn firefighting skills at Kent training center | Photos

Climbing an 100-foot ladder, reloading hoses part of the process

King County Crime Dive podcast.
Molotov cocktails lead to prison sentence | King County Crime Dive

In this episode, we take a look at the sentencing of a man who wanted to burn down the Seattle police union building; and unknown suspects dumped hundreds of gallons of cooking oil into a Renton waterway.

Kent Police Blotter: Aug. 23 to Sept. 9

Incidents include home invasion, robberies, burglaries, road rage

Lakewood man dies in Kent crash along State Route 516 | Update

Driver identified in single-vehicle wreck Friday night, Sept. 15 near West Meeker Street

Most Read