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Dept. of Wildlife Resources urges caution due to cold water temperatures

Updated: Mar. 23, 2021 at 6:29 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - With warm spring temperatures sticking around Central Virginia, the Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR) is warning people about dangerous water temperatures.

Department of Wildlife Resources Lt. Rob Ham said just because the air temperatures are warm, does not mean the water is. As strange as it may sound, you are urged to dress for those cold water temperatures.

“Synthetic fibers will make you really cold, but wool will keep you nice and warm even if you’re wet,” said Peter Dister.

Dister knows this all too well. He has been on the water most of his life; being a member of the VCU row team and now a volunteer coach for Richmond Community Rowing.

“A kid flipped yesterday, and I had to get in the water to help him,” Dister said.

This time of year, most people do not plan on taking a dip in the water.

“In the last few days, we’ve seen it anywhere in the James River somewhere from 48-52 degrees which is still quite cold than what the middle of the day air temperature is,” Ham said.

It’s a warning the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources is pushing out as spring temperatures draw more outdoors enthusiasts to waterways. However, if you go overboard, it’s important to try and stay calm.

“You don’t expect the water to feel as cold and it affects your whole body,” said Kendal Dill, a volunteer and coach with Richmond Community Rowing.

“The first thing your body wants to do is breathe in really quickly,” Dister added. “That’s always a bad thing because you get all that cold air in your body.”

Not only would cold air go in your body, but there’s the potential to swallow water.

“It can sometimes make you breathe in cold water which can lead to drowning very quickly,” Ham said.

“So, you just relax, take a breath for a second, slow down and then start moving around, keeping your extremities warmer,” Dister said.

There is also that important piece of equipment all water-goers are urged to always have on.

“Having a life jacket on really is key to survival if you end up in the water,” Ham said.

In 2020, the DWR responded to 110 boating incidents; 21 of them ended in fatalities and in 95% of those fatal incidents no life jacket was worn.

“Unfortunately, people become concerned when it becomes something near and dear to them,” Ham said. “So, we definitely want to get that point out before it does become a near and dear topic for their family.”

Other boating incident data from the DWR is as follows:

YEARREGISTERED BOATSINCIDENTSINJURIESFATALITIES
2020226,7821105121
2019228,459893520
2018227,743824112
2017227,056754413
2016233,236854221
2015236,279793910

Meanwhile, the DWR is also reminding outdoor enthusiasts about the potential for flooding.

“There will be debris in the waterway; something that may not have been there all year long is now there, and you could get caught up in it,” Ham said.

You are also encouraged to not be on flooded waters and keep an eye out for any unknown obstructions.

To monitor weather conditions and a marine forecast, click here. The United States Geological Survey has water temperatures for some inland lakes and rivers.

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