SILVER CREEK – Balmy, 60-degree weather and sunshine greeted swimmers at Sunday’s 12th annual Polar Bear Swim in Lake Erie off Silver Creek.
Co-chairwoman Pamela Forge marveled at the sun and relatively warm Lake Erie Water temperatures of at least 37 degrees.
For the second straight day, temperatures were unseasonably warm in the area, reaching a high of 65 degrees around noon in the Buffalo area. That was close to the record of 68 set in 2005, according to National Weather Service meteorologist Aaron Reynolds.
But the southerly flow that created the warm air mass was slated to head out Sunday night, with a cold front bringing a steady decline in temperatures overnight and into today, Reynolds said.
After Sunday’s highs in the 60s, today’s high is expected to top out at a more January-like 33 degrees. But Western New Yorkers enjoyed the respite while it lasted.
“It is pretty warm,” Reynolds said Sunday afternoon. “It’s not good for anyone who wants snow, but it’s a nice day to get out and enjoy it while it lasts, and then winter will return.”
Exactly 100 swimmers registered for the Polar Bear swim this year, and proceeds were expected to exceed last year’s total of $14,000. With just about half of the swimmers’ donations collected early Sunday, organizers already had surpassed $10,000, with proceeds from a basket raffle, a wine tasting and charity blackjack games still to be counted.
There also were proceeds from those who paid to dance with Bruce Tarnowski and his “bridesmaids” from Dunkirk. Tarnowski was dressed in a wedding gown and admitted this wasn’t his first time in the water, though it was his first as a “bride.” He and his friends thought of the costumes to gain attention and had raised more than $400 in pledges.
“We try to think of a unique costume every year,” he said.
Others in Western New York who may not have been up for a dip in Lake Erie took advantage of the warm winter day in Delaware Park.
Mike and Keri Nowak, of Depew, stopping by to walk with their Doberman, said they didn’t want to miss out Sunday.
“In January, you don’t often get a day like this. We wanted to take advantage of it,” said Mike Nowak.
Others, such as Moira Salz-berg, who lives on Buffalo’s West Side, are in Delaware Park daily, but she said she gets a lot of company on the nice days.
“You can tell the weather by just coming to the park,” she said. “There were even more people here yesterday.”
Not everyone was thrilled with the temperatures, however. Canisius College senior Charles Cook was in the park to play rugby, but the Albany-area resident called the weather “kind of disappointing for winter. I’d like to be snowboarding.”
His Canisius classmate, Regan Steele of New Zealand, said the warm winter weather is making him feel right at home.
“I’m used to my winters being like this. A day like this is about as bad as it gets,” Steele said.
Back in Silver Creek, Polar Bear swim co-chairwoman Judi Kelly, registering swimmers in her polar bear-themed outfit, said this year’s event was certainly atypical, with the warmest temperatures in 12 years.
Chautauqua County Legislator George Borrello, who was drying off after his swim, said his training was wasted this year after he prepared by “jumping rope in the walk-in freezer.” He and his family own Cabana Sams and the Sunset Bay Beach Club.
Borrello said previous years were so cold that the water felt like needles. He said this year’s swim was easy.
“When you came out into the warm water and sunshine, it was no problem,” he added.
Funds from this year’s event will be shared between the Silver Creek Food Pantry, Silver Creek Emergency Squad and the Variety Club.
Silver Creek Mayor Kurt Lindstrom said the event was just what the village needed. The village has been reeling from bad news lately, as Petri Baking Products recently announced that it was closing.
More than 200 jobs will be lost at the business, which started in the village in 1935.
Lindstrom said that news came on the heels of other issues, such as needed repairs at the wastewater treatment plant.
“It’s just great to see so many people come together and support the fire department and emergency squad,” he added.