Hypothermia is not just a winter concern
August 17, 2004
Just because summer is winding down and the lake level is low doesn’t mean the water is warm.
Those who participate in water sports can still get hypothermia, according to health officials. Incline Village Community Hospital has handled a couple of cases within the last two weeks, according to Jan Iida, a registered nurse.
“It’s usually vacationers who have been out on a boat and jump in the cold water,” she said. “It shocks your body, and this is when some people take a deep breath.”
She said people don’t expect the water to be so cold. Even some locals have said they think the water is warmer with the level low. But if someone is in the water for half an hour, body temperature can drop enough that hypothermia can occur.
“Recently we’ve had only mild hypothermia – 34 or 35 degrees Celsius,” (about 94 or 95 degrees Fahrenheit), Iida said.
Then when people go out too far they will start getting cramps in their arms and legs, she added.
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“When they start to feel cramping, they need to get out,” she said.
It only takes a brief exposure for the body’s temperature to begin plummeting, said Kristi Dunnging, a registered nurse at the Incline hospital.
Although hypothermia usually is associated with winter, those who participate in water sports in the Lake Tahoe Basin need to think about the condition year-round, she wrote.
Lake Tahoe’s depth means its constant year-round temperature averages 55 degrees Fahrenheit, with surface water varying between 41 and 68 degrees.
“Hypothermia occurs when the body’s core temperature is less than 35 degrees Celsius,” Dunnging said. “It can happen by conduction, convection or evaporation.”
Conduction may be the most blatant means by which people get hypothermia at Tahoe. Conduction is when a warm body hits cold water, heat is transferred, or conducted from the person.
This is particularly relevant because the thermal conduction of water is about 30 times more than that of air, according to Dunnging.
“The body loses heat rapidly when it’s immersed,” she wrote.
Dunnging recommends a wetsuit for those who plan to be in the water for a prolonged period of time. She also advises people to wear a life jacket when they participate in water sports of any kind on the lake.
“Dry off thoroughly, and have dry clothes available,” she said.
She recommends warm pants and a sweatshirt in addition to dry shorts and tops.
“Be careful – the water isn’t that warm,” Iida warned.