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Weather warms up, but area waterways remain dangerously cold

A reservoir with buoys and a grassy area in the distance
Linda Maria
The swimming area at Fern Ridge Reservoir is cordoned off by buoys in this May 9, 2024 photo. Water temperatures in area lakes and rivers are still dangerously cold at this time of year.

With warmer temperatures in the forecast, it might be time to break out the tank tops this weekend, but not the swimsuits.

While we could see near record-breaking temperatures Friday and Saturday, with highs in the 80s across the region, officials warn that rivers and lakes are still dangerously cold.

This week, the surface temperature of Fern Ridge Reservoir west of Eugene has been right around 50 degrees, and the McKenzie River near Vida was as low as 44 degrees.

Those low water temperatures can be deadly. Entering very cold water can lead to “cold shock” which can cause dramatic changes in breathing, heart rate and blood pressure.

The sudden gasp and rapid breathing alone creates a greater risk of drowning even for confident swimmers in calm waters.

In addition to colder water temperatures at this time of year, with a healthy snowpack in the Cascades, water levels in area rivers are higher right now than they are in the summer months. High water can mask underwater dangers such as limbs and branches.

Emergency officials say it’s wise to remember that warm air doesn’t always mean warm water, and recreationists should use caution- and common sense- in lakes, streams, rivers or the ocean.

Love Cross joined KLCC in 2017. She began her public radio career as a graduate student, serving as Morning Edition Host for Boise State Public Radio in the late 1990s. She earned her undergraduate degree in Rhetoric and Communication from University of California at Davis, and her Master’s Degree from Boise State University. In addition to her work in public radio, Love teaches college-level courses in Communication and Sociology.
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