Summer Safety: The weather is hot, but the water is not

BOSTON — Boston 25 Storm Tracker Chief Meteorologist Kevin Lemanowicz is predicting summer-like temperatures in the 80s this week, but before you hit the beach, experts are warning people of the dangers of swimming in cold water this time of year.

Right now, the ocean temperature is in the 40's and lakes and ponds in Massachusetts aren't much warmer.

Swimming in cold water, even just for a couple of minutes, can cause hypothermia. Hypothermia is when your body is not able to maintain its own body temperature.

Hypothermia can set in at approximately 15-30 minutes in 32.5-40 degree water temperatures and 30-60 minutes in 40-50 degree water temperatures. Additionally, cold water robs the body of heat 32 times faster than cold air, can cause the body to experience muscle spasms and cramps and can cause the body to go into shock and begin hyperventilating. Symptoms of hypothermia include: shivering; dizziness; nausea; increased breathing; difficulty in speaking; confusion; diminished coordination; fatigue; and an increase in heart rate.

"The people who are most susceptible to hypothermia are young children and they may not necessarily tell you, so you have to keep an eye out for them," Dr. Paul Biddinger, Chief of Emergency Preparedness at Massachusetts General Hospital, told Boston 25 News.

People who are older are also at high risk of hypothermia.

Alcohol doesn't mix well with cold water either. "[Alcohol] doesn't make you recognize the symptoms of hypothermia as quickly as you might otherwise, so it might make you feel warm, but it's not a great idea," Dr. Biddinger said.

Everybody has experienced a mild case of hypothermia in their lifetime. It starts with shivering and feeling cold. After an extended period of time, your extremities will begin to go numb.

“As it gets more severe, unfortunately your mental status gets altered, which means you get confused and make bad choices,” Dr. Biddinger said. “If you notice someone who looks a little glassy eyed, not like them self, definitely time to get them out of the water.”

In the most severe stages of hypothermia, people stop shivering.

“That's actually not reassuring at all,” Dr. Biddinger said. “That's the body's inability to maintain its temperature even more than it was having trouble before. If somebody isn't shivering, if they’re cold and acting off their baseline, it's time to get them to a hospital.”

Being prepared is also key.

“It’s really important to dry yourself off, have layers and dry clothes, so when you get out of the water you aren’t too cold,” Dr. Biddinger said.

Dr. Biddinger also provided other summer safety tips.


Dr. Biddinger said wearing sunscreen not only prevents getting a sunburn, but is also incredibly important for your long-term health.


A report out Tuesday from the Centers for Disease Control found tick and mosquito infections are spreading rapidly across the United States.

Dr. Biddinger said one of the best ways to prevent tick borne illness is not to get a tick bite in the first place. Wear clothing that covers your entire body, including tall socks.

Tuck your pants into your socks. Also wear insect repellant. Once you exit the woods, do a thorough check for ticks.

Check the nooks and crannies between your toes, under your armpits and your hair.

Also, check pets if they were with you. Dr. Biddinger said if tick was on you for less than 24 hours, it’s extremely unlikely you’re going to get an illness from that tick.

It’s much more common to have problems or side effects if the tick has been there for a while.

If you're going swimming, take your time.

Dr. Biddinger said if you haven’t been swimming in a while, it’s likely you’re not as strong of a swimmer as you were at the end of the season. Learn your limits before you got too far out into the water. If you or someone you are with were to fall into a water body, it is extremely important to not panic and to conserve energy to avoid exhaustion and unconsciousness.

The Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) is also reminding the public of dangers associated with warmer weather.

“After such a long winter season, the Department of Conservation and Recreation is ecstatic to have people from all over the Commonwealth having the opportunity to get outside and enjoy our state parks and other natural resources,” said DCR Commissioner Leo Roy. “With the start of warmer air temperatures, it is important that we all use caution near water bodies, particularly this time of year, when cold water temperatures can be detrimental to one’s safety.”

DCR starts guarding major coastal and inland beaches weekends only on Memorial Day Weekend. Beaches will not be guarded seven days a week until June 16, 2018. Those who choose to swim at a location where a lifeguard is not on duty, do so at their own risk.