High temperatures, heavy rain create perfect storm for drownings
CONCORD — Heavy rain in June followed by heat in July have created "a perfect storm for some unfortunate tragedies" on state waterways, including six drowning deaths this month, a Fish and Game official said Tuesday.
With "the high heat and humidity, water's becoming a magnet for a large volume of people," Lt. Jim Juneau said during a news conference in front of the Merrimack River near the Everett Arena. "The high and rapid pace of many of these waters create a real dangerous environment."
Last year, New Hampshire recorded eight drownings through July 16, including four during June and July. This year, the state tallied 11, including nine in June and July. The ages of recent drowning victims range in age from 3 to 59.
"We're just asking our visitors and our residents who are drawn to the water with this heat and humidity that we're expecting this week to pay close attention to young children, to pay close attention to the types of water they're seeking relief from and paying attention to those currents, high water and eddies they may run into," Marine Patrol Capt. Tim Dunleavy said.
Four would-be swimmers who happened upon the news conference said afterward they had second thoughts about swimming in the Merrimack River near the skateboard park after hearing state officials warn of swift undercurrents in many of the state's rivers.
"We were about to jump in," said Nick Muzzey, 23, of Loudon. But he was considering going swimming elsewhere.
"It's a little scary so many people passed away around here from the water," Muzzey said.
Muzzey and his friend, Steven Lynch, 21, of Franklin, knew the 20-year-old Penacook resident, Daron Graham, who was swept up by the fast-moving Merrimack current while swimming in Boscawen this month.
"It makes you realize how easy it can happen," said Lynch, who swam in that same area the day before Graham disappeared. "It could have happened to any one of us."
Concord recorded nearly 7 inches of rain in June, nearly double the average amount. The rain swelled the state's waterways.
Officials urged those who aren't strong swimmers to consider visiting one of the many local or state parks that often have lifeguards on duty.
Concord Fire Chief Dan Andrus said people often are distracted by their cellphones and other things. Drownings often occur with those in distress not having time to yell for help.
"We have to pay attention. We have to be on guard," Andrus said. "We have to kind of be on top of those kids and watch them all the time because it's so easy, as it happened this last weekend, for a 3-year-old or a 4-year-old or even an older child to slip away unnoticed to their deaths."
Dunleavy said it would be "very difficult" for the state to post dangerous locations on a website.
"A lot of these things change day to day," he said. "If we get a couple of thundershowers that roll through in specific areas of the state, a certain body of water could be fine at one o'clock, but at 3:30 could be very dangerous."
Juneau said people often don't judge the dangers well.
"We tend to see a lot of people underestimate the conditions and overestimate their abilities when it comes to being around the water," he said.
State police Capt. Mark Armaganian said he hoped to get the word out to prevent more drownings.
"No one wakes up in the morning with plans to go to the beach or to go to the river and have any foresight whatsover that it can end tragically either for them personally or maybe someone they know," he said.