On Saturday morning at Lake Monroe’s Paynetown Recreation Area, with a steady rain falling out of a sky with low-hanging clouds and fog, right when the time ticked to 10 o’clock, about 50 people sprinted from the beach into the water.
Counting down the crowd to the appointed hour was Jeanice Chastain.
The group was led into the lake by a polar bear, in the form of Troy Chastain, who has donned the costume the last half dozen years.
The Chastains are organizers of the event, which runs under the banner of the Bloomington Polar Bear Plunge. Proceeds from the event go to the Boys & Girls Club of Bloomington.
The New Year’s Day tradition this year wrapped up one of the warmest Decembers in the last 120 years in the Bloomington area, based on data maintained by NOAA Regional Climate Centers.
(More photos below.)
By one measure, 2021 was the warmest December on record for the Bloomington area. On 11 days, the daily high in December 2021 went above 60 F degrees. Second-place for that statistic was 1946, when 10 December days eclipsed the 60-degree mark.
The warm period leading up to New Year’s Day meant the water on Saturday morning was not exactly frigid. The USGS gauge at the Harrodsburg end of the lake measured the water temperature at 49.5 F degrees. That was about 4 degrees cooler than the air temperature.
The water was still plenty cold enough to provoke shrieks and howls from participants, as the shock of the chill was recorded on their faces.
Troy Chastain told The B Square that Saturday morning’s plunge was the warmest on record. He also confirmed that it was the best one ever. The 56-year-old Chastain said he won’t play the polar bear past age 60, which means there’s time yet to make a smooth transition.
Taking part in their first plunge on Saturday were Bloomington residents Sarah Forest and her two daughters, Naomi and Natalie. Asked if she planned to return next year, when the weather would likely not be so warm, Forest replied, “I think so!”
In the photo gallery below, Forest is the woman holding the girl in the purple dress (Naomi), lowering her towards the water.
Also appearing in a couple of photos striding into the lake, is one local elected official, who is left as a challenge for B Square readers to spot.
Photos: Bloomington Polar Bear Plunge, Jan. 1, 2022