First responders warn of cold water shock ahead of sunny weekend

Bright and sunny weather is the forecast this weekend. Many people throughout the region will be heading outdoors to enjoy the spring season. For those who are planning to hit the water, however, first responders warn the temperatures are still cold and potentially dangerous.

Just this week, a Tacoma teenager was saved from Wapato Lake by police. The chilling moments of her rescue were captured on an officer’s body camera.

"When we were running up to the shore, we could just see barely her face above the water, and she wasn’t moving at all," recalled Officer S. O’Neal, who rescued the teen from the lake.

Reasons why the 15-year-old was in the water are still unknown, but officials said it’s likely the lake’s chilly temperatures could have factored into her losing consciousness. Once on shore, the girl threw up the excess water and firefighters gave her medical aid.

Ahead of the warm spring weekend, the Skagit County Sheriff’s Office alerted the public on social media, saying "cold water shock is deadlier than you think."

April is when drownings in the U.S. start to spike, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It’s a time of year when water is colder than it appears. In 2023, between January and June, 12 people lost their lives in waters throughout King County alone.

Fortunately for the Tacoma teen, the officers were next door at their precinct.

"It all just happened to be perfect timing," said O’Neal.

For others, however, their rescue may not be as close. So, first responders are sharing water safety tips to reduce cold water shock and prevent drownings.

Skagit County Sheriff’s Office suggests: 

  • Always wear a life jacket while on the water
  • When it's cooler temps, layer clothing made from synthetic materials or wool
  • Understand wind, wave, current and tide conditions and how they impact the ability to control a vessel
  • Be alert and stay vigilant of other boaters
  • Avoid consuming alcohol and substances
  • And carry two forms of communication that can work while wet, like a whistle, to call for help

"Make sure that everybody is in pairs. That’s really what happened in this situation. She was with some friends, so when she wasn’t able to call 911, they called for us," said O’Neal.


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First responders are also advising people to let others know about their water plans. This includes who the person is with, where they’re going, when they’re going, and how long they plan to be on the water.