Updated: Dec 6, 2022
One of the best things about outdoor swimming is beating the weather. Rain, wind, snow, sun, mist, hail; bring it on! But is there such thing as weather too inclement for swimming? And what's the outdoor swimmer's worst weather?
One of the purest pleasures of an open water swim is water is never the same twice. I've dipped in tarns where the water is thick and dark like swimming in liquid velvet, in cold quarries where the water is so fresh you can drink it, in grey opaque lakes, turquoise sea and bubbling rivers.
Clevedon Marine Lake is the place where I swim the most, and it proves that even the same body of water is never the same. Standing at the top of the steps, I always pause to take in that day's conditions. Sometimes it's still like glass, sometimes it churns around wildly. Sometimes it's deep blue, sometimes pale grey, sometimes brown. Sometimes it's crystal clear, and other times it's completely opaque.
Come sun, rain or snow
The weather plays a huge factor in swimming conditions, along with other factors like tides and currents. And most of the time, swimming is perfectly safe. It's worth knowing your body of water, though, and getting a bit of advice from local swimmers.
The nature of waves, for example, depends on the wind. Or the current in a river is affected by rain, and very heavy rain affects water quality because of urban and agricultural run-off and storm sewer overflow. Visibility is another factor, not only in the water but also visibility from or to the shore; a thick fog can be very disorientating.
Our least favourite weather
You might think that a deep freeze is the weather that outdoor swimmers dread. But not so. It's actually wind. This pesky blighter can turn a body of water from millpond to maelstrom. Choppiness makes breathing trickier, and while you can zoom off in one direction with the wind behind you, the return swim can be like climbing a hill of treacle.
And it plummets the air temperature. Have a look at this handy guide on how wind chill affects exposed flesh. Brrrr, it makes me shiver just thinking about it.
Prepare to survive
The key to surviving minging weather is to prepare. You want to make sure you've dry clothes to change into after your swim, and you can be spotted by your fellow swimmers.
In the rain, cover your belongings with a waterproof layer while you swim and make sure your bag has a waterproof base. Plastic bags, tarpaulins etc are worth packing.
Bring a mat to stand on while you change.
Wear a brightly coloured swim hat and use a tow-float so that you can be easily spotted in heavy rain or fog.
Know where you're swimming. This is a good idea at any point, but especially when the conditions are not ideal.
Check forecasts, tide times etc before you swim.
If there has been heavy rain or storms, check storm overflows if you're swimming in the sea.
Park close, leave everything in the car and leg it back to the car after your swim.
When to stay dry
There are a few occasions where bad weather makes outdoor swimming unsafe. These are:
When severe weather, high winds and storms make the sea dangerous and unpredictable. Don't even go close to have a look, it's not worth it.
When the fog is too thick to see other swimmers or see the water's edge when you're swimming.
When there's an electrical storm directly over the body of water in which you're swimming.