Look Before You Leap

9 tips for safe swimming after the flooding and storms
Man jumps off cliff into swimming hole in river

The recent storms that dumped more than two months of rain in two days on our area caused heart-breaking, catastrophic flooding for many. Now, as water and fear recede, some Vermonters and northern New Yorkers are trying to salvage what they can of traditional summer fun.

While we’re all ready for a break, it’s important to remember that our rivers, lakes and swimming holes can still be treacherous places. “It’s been a tough summer with the air quality from wildfires and the significant impacts of the floods,” says Alicia Jacobs, MD, Vice Chair of Family Medicine Clinical Operations at The University of Vermont Medical Center. “I hope we can all have fun safely.”

Some pointers when venturing back into the water:

  1. Beware hidden debris. “Don’t forget there are many dangers in the waters now, seen and unseen,” says Dr. Jacobs. Floodwaters can carry logs, branches, tires, washing machines (you name it) downriver and into our lakes. These obstacles can be extremely dangerous for swimmers, boaters and water-skiers.
  2. Avoid cliff or bridge diving. After heavy rains, don’t ever dive or jump from heights without carefully checking what’s below, even if you’ve jumped there a 100 times before. Submerged hazards and strong currents can transform formerly safe areas.
  3. Remember: Currents can change. Heavy rains can lead to different water flows and new whirlpools in places they didn’t exist before. Powerful, unexpected currents can lurk under seemingly calm waters, challenging even the strongest swimmers. 
  4. Think water quality. After heavy rains, the water in rivers and lakes can become contaminated by runoff from nearby fields, roads and sewer systems. The polluted water can contain harmful bacteria or chemicals that can make you sick. “Many waterways still have raw sewage in them until sewer repairs can be made,” Dr. Jacobs says. “Stay up to date with local news.”
  5. Know that help can be hard to come by. Heavy rain and flooding can cause road damage that can take months to fix, making access to remote locations difficult for emergency services and potentially delaying rescue efforts.
  6. Don’t be surprised by overcrowding: Weeks after the stress of the natural disaster has passed, many may flock to their favorite swimming holes. But the presence of more people can push you to venture to riskier areas (Bolton Potholes or Huntington Gorge pop to mind). Don’t take the risk.
  7. Stay informed: Check local weather conditions and flood advisories before heading out. The saturated ground means flooding can happen again with little warning.
  8. Never swim alone: Even familiar places can have unexpected hazards following a flood. Always have a buddy who can help if you get cut by -- or hooked on -- underwater obstacles.
  9. As always, avoid alcohol and drugs when swimming. They impair judgment and may make you more daring than you should be. Stay safe. 

“If you need ideas for some safe options, consider sprinklers, pools, water balloons, cool showers and ice packs,” says Dr. Jacobs. “And lots of popsicles.”

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