Tempting sun hides winter’s dangers

The sun may be out and the mercury on the rise, but outdoor enthusiasts should remember it’s far from summer, officials warn.

The first stretch of sunny, warm weather has hit Snohomish County and many people are heading for local parks, hiking trails, rivers and lakes that are still under some winter conditions.

Niki Desautels / The Herald

Faith Dye, 6, of Lake Stevens plays in the shallow waters of the Pilchuck River at Pilchuck Park with her mother on Monday.

The combination has search and rescue and emergency crews nervous.

“There’s so much snow for so late in the season, I’m really concerned someone is going to get out there in rough terrain without being equipped or trained,” said Sgt. Danny Wickstrom, Snohomish County sheriff’s search and rescue coordinator.

Wickstrom spotted hikers wearing tennis shoes on Mount Pilchuck on Sunday. Others didn’t seem to have the necessary equipment to survive cold conditions or an overnight stay if they lost their way.

“As much snow as we had, it’s going to take more than few days to melt the snow away,” said Andy Haner, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Seattle.

Haner said more sun is on the way for the week and weekend, but temperatures likely won’t get above the lower 60s.

Hiking safety

Taking to the trails? Snohomish County Sheriffs Office searchers advise hikers to consider the following safety tips:

* Plan your trip and leave a detailed description of the destination, route and time of return with a friend or family member. Advise the person to call 911 with the information if you dont return.

* Do not go into the mountains alone.

* Plan for emergencies. Carry the essentials: waterproof matches or fire starter, flashlight with extra batteries and bulb, first aid kit, extra food and water, whistle, map and compass, emergency shelter, extra clothing, knife, sunglasses and sunscreen.

* Know the area and check the weather forecast.

* Know your limitations.

* If you become lost or separated from your party, find a safe place and stay there until help arrives.

* A hiking safety plan can be printed out from the Snohomish County Sheriffs Web site at www1.co.snohomish.wa.us/departments/sheriff. Click on Sheriff Information.

Follow these Red Cross water safety tips:

* Learn to swim. The best thing anyone can do to stay safe in and around the water is to learn to swim. Never swim alone.

* Swim in areas supervised by a lifeguard.

* Read and obey all rules and posted signs.

* Children or inexperienced swimmers should take precautions, such as wearing a life jacket when around water.

* Watch out for the dangerous toos: too tired, too cold, too far from safety, too much sun, too much strenuous activity.

* Set water safety rules for the entire family based on swimming abilities.

* Be knowledgeable about the water environment and its potential hazards, such as deep and shallow areas, currents, obstructions and entry and exit locations.

* Pay attention to local weather conditions and forecasts. Stop swimming at the first indication of bad weather.

Source: American Red Cross

Mountain conditions are not the only concern for emergency crews.

The fishing season for lakes will open Saturday and boating season opens May 6, meaning more people out on the water.

Some people eager for summer already plunged into popular swimming holes over the weekend.

“We had a beautiful day (Sunday), but don’t let the air temperature and sunshine fool you,” said Lt. Rodney Rochon, commander of the sheriff’s marine services unit.

Hypothermia can quickly set in even if the sun is out, he said.

“The cold water causes you to gasp. You choke on the water. You can’t move. You can’t breathe. You drown,” Rochon said.

Last year, 16 people accidentally drowned in Snohomish County. That is up from 13 the previous year, according to the Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s Office.

The snow melt also increases hazardous conditions in local rivers, Rochon said. The runoff creates faster currents and brings debris, including downed trees, that can be dangerous to swimmers and boaters, he said.

Rochon also warned that not all the county swimming areas have been swept for debris. County divers did some cleaning last week, he said.

“In Lake Stevens we found a pole or tree branch sticking straight up,” Rochon said. “If someone didn’t see it and dove off the dock, they could have been impaled.”

Rochon reminded swimmers to wear life jackets and boaters to make sure they have equipment for an emergency.

“We want everyone to have fun in the water,” he said. “What we don’t want is to have to do (body) recoveries.”

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