RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Since many residents in Central Virginia live so close to aquatic resources like the James River, they may feel tempted to test out those large bodies of water during the winter. However, first responders and people familiar with the challenges warn that doing so could have someone skating on thin ice — literally.
Josh Stutz with Friends of the James River noted the deceptive game that glossy bodies of water can play this time of year. He explained how as temperatures fluctuate — even on relatively warmer winter days — river temperatures can rest below freezing levels.
“It can kill you pretty quickly at that temperature,” Stutz said.
He warned that only experts who are equipped with proper gear, wetsuits and other protection should take a chance on the water during chillier months.
“Hypothermia can set in and kill you [in] around 45 minutes,” Stutz said.
According to experts, hypothermia can set in even earlier if one is overcome by powerful currents and left stranded and submerged in the water.
Water rescue missions tend to happen less frequently in the winter because fewer people go out onto the river. However, when water rescues do happen, they can be increasingly dangerous for everyone involved, including volunteer rescuers and first responders.
“You don’t want to put anyone else at risk trying to rescue you,” Stutz said.
Increased precipitation in the winter also plays a role in heightening water levels. By impacting river levels, precipitation can worsen the water’s wrath.
Deliberate thrill-seekers aren’t the only ones susceptible to dangers along the water. Conditions can become slippery near lakes, rivers and ponds when water freezes over. Simply walking near a body of water can put an individual at risk of falling in, freezing and drowning.
“If you’re just out here walking around, if you hop in for a dip or fall in by accident, it can be really dangerous,” Stutz said.
First responders say one should never venture near water alone and should always check river conditions before heading over. Conditions change quite quickly, so it’s crucial that any “winter water bugs” check updates often.
Last weekend, water levels hit around 12 feet on Thursday, Dec. 29, and they rested around 6 feet. These measurements depend on where one is located along the river and what exactly is occurring west of the city in the more mountainous regions of the state.
“If you walk 100 yards east or west of where we’re standing, the water conditions are a little different,” Stutz explained.
More information on how to check water conditions can be found here.