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Too Cold For Polar Bears? Organizers Cancel, Postpone Popular New Year’s Eve Dips

Kathy Heseltine
Via Natural Resources Council Of Maine
Participants at the Polar Bear Dip in Portland in 2012.

Frigid temperatures forecast this weekend are proving too much even for rugged Mainers. A pair of popular polar dips planned for New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day are being canceled or rescheduled due to organizers’ concerns for participants’ safety.

For the first time in 30 years, the New Year’s Day Lobster Dip held in Old Orchard Beach to benefit Special Olympics is being postponed until Saturday, Jan. 13. Participant and Public Relations Director Lisa Bird says the numbers forecast for that date are looking a whole lot better than they are for Monday, when the wind chill factor is expected to drop well below zero.

“I’m not going to lie that I’m a little excited about 28 degrees as opposed to negative 16. It certainly makes me look forward to the event a lot more,” she says.

Bird says the biggest concern was putting dippers at risk for hypothermia. And so, with the advice from their medical team, organizers concluded it wasn’t safe.

That was also the conclusion reached by the Natural Resources Council of Maine, which has been sponsoring a polar bear dip on New Year’s Eve for the past decade as a way to highlight climate change in Casco Bay.

“When I recruited my team for Team Hype-ER-thermia I said, ‘Everybody will come out of the water with a smile on their face,’ and that’s the backdrop against which we want to do the dip,” says Dr. Tony Owens, an ER physician and longtime dipper who counseled the group to pull the plug.

Unlike research into marathons run in the heat and humidity, Owens says not much is known about the safety of cold water dips. But the consensus around Maine was that with an extremely cold air temperature combined with a stiff wind, taking the plunge wouldn’t be a safe or fun experience.

While the dip is off until next year, the Polar Bear 5K planned for Sunday morning is still on. Extra warm hats, mittens and socks are definitely in order.