Taking a New Year’s Day dip in Lake George may seem a bit more bracing than usual.
Temperatures are expected to hover around the low 20s during the village’s annual Polar Plunge this afternoon. That means swimmers participating in the annual rite could find the water a bit more cozy than the sandy shore of Shepard Park Beach.
“They might not want to come out,” quipped Linda Duffy, the event’s organizer.
Duffy does anticipate fewer swimmers than years in which the weather is more balmy. But for the most part, she said, swimmers aren’t turned away by a frigid forecast — some even find it more of a challenge.
“You go in tomorrow and you’re a real polar bear swimmer,” she said in Tuesday.
The plunge will narrowly avoid a rather vicious snap of winter weather that’s poised to hit the greater Capital Region. The National Weather Service in Albany is predicting between six and 12 inches of snow starting late this evening and continuing through Thursday.
Meteorologist Hugh Johnson said the snow isn’t expected to be heavy but should reach significant accumulation by the time it tapers off. Then will come the bone-chilling cold.
Temperatures are expected to drop below zero on Thursday evening and then stay there into the morning Friday. By nightfall, actual temperatures could dip as low as minus 17 and feel like minus 30 with the wind chill factored in.
“It’s going to be absolutely brutal,” Johnson said. “The big thing will be the wind chill factor.”
Fortunately for the plungers, they’ll be in and out before the real frigid weather hits.
The Polar Plunge has grown immensely since Charles “Papa Bear” Albert founded the plunge with a couple hundred daring swimmers several decades ago. The plunge now attracts more than 1,200 people and is among the largest cold-water dips in the state — one that requires several waves of swimmers to fit them all on the beach.
Divers from the village fire department and emergency medical technicians will be on hand as usual in case swimmers have any health issues during the plunge. But generally, Duffy said, most swimmers don’t stay in the lake long enough to suffer hypothermia.
“The water is still cold, and you can get hypothermia if you stay in there too long,” she said. “We don’t encourage people to hang out in it.”
The cold water has a number of immediate effects on the body, said Dr. Dominick Carillo of Glens Falls Hospital. The initial shock of the water can raise blood pressure slightly for the first few seconds.
But then the body begins acclimating to the sudden drop in temperature; the heart rate slows, and blood circulation to the skin drops.
Carillo said someone submerged in the cold water for a longer period might experience what is called the diver reflex. The body’s circulation and metabolism slow so that it can remain submerged for longer periods of time.
But in an environment like the plunge, the greatest issue comes with the onset of hypothermia. Carillo said the effect of leaving the lake and remaining in a cold environment can cause evaporative cooling, which can quickly lower body temperature.
“Then it’s really important to get to a warm place fairly quickly,” he said. “Having a cold day is going to make that whole exposure a little more pronounced.”