Polar plunge-goers will face near-freezing temps, wind. Here’s how to plunge safely

Participants jump into Lake Padden at the Padden Polar Dip, Jan. 1, 2014.
Participants jump into Lake Padden at the Padden Polar Dip, Jan. 1, 2014. eabell@bhamherald.com

Some Whatcom County residents will join thousands worldwide Sunday in what is perhaps one of the chilliest traditions – polar plunges.

The idea is simple: Brave the cold and take a quick dip in icy water. Whatcom locals and visitors will have two choices, as usual, should they decide to join in the New Year’s Day tradition, with plunges scheduled at Birch Bay and Lake Padden.

The weather isn’t likely to show any mercy on plunge-goers this year, with the high on Sunday set to be a brisk 36 degrees – just a few notches above freezing – according to the National Weather Service.

Cloudy skies aren’t expected to allow for much sun, either, and wind gusts could reach nearly 50 mph in parts of the county, meaning extra shivers for anyone planning to take a dip.

Still, many plunges are done in the name of good causes, and many participants go to share in the experience with hundreds of others.

But, just how safe is it to go diving into frigid water?

The most obvious risk is hypothermia, which, according to the Mayo Clinic, is caused by “immersion in a cold body of water,” and comes when the body’s temperature drops below 95 degrees.

Cold dips also can be a strain on the heart. The physical responses to the quick temperature change – hyperventilation, the loss of ability to hold your breath and weakening muscles – can strain the heart, according to an ABC News report citing medical experts.

And deaths have been reported during similar activities. A Pennsylvania woman died of hypothermia in September 2015 after falling off a pier in New Jersey, according to the New Jersey Star-Ledger. A man died at a hospital after being treated for cardiac arrest following a jump in an Ohio lake in November 2015, The Columbus Dispatch reported.

The bottom line: Anyone with family history of stroke or heart disease should talk to a doctor before making a jump, reports CNN, also citing cardiologists. Otherwise, make your plunge quick, towel off immediately and take advantage of the free hot beverages at both events.

Kyle Mittan: 360-756-2803, @KyleMittan

Take a plunge

Birch Bay Polar Bear Plunge: Gather on the waterfront along Birch Bay Drive. Day-of registration is at 10 a.m.; early registration can be done online at birchbaychamber.com/polar-bear-plunge.html. The plunge is at noon.

Resolution Walk/Run & Padden Polar Dip: Gather at Lake Padden Park’s west entrance. A walk and run around the lake is scheduled for 11 a.m.; the plunge is at noon.