A flurry of snow started falling Saturday morning as participants signed in for the 13th annual Polar Plunge at Riverbend Park in Bend.

The snowfall and 33-degree water in the Deschutes River — slightly warmer than the 30-degree air — made some participants think twice about plunging into the river.

But nobody backed out.

On a day when much of Oregon was inundated with snow, the polar plunge participants offered their own brand of winter defiance, if only for a few moments.

Groups of participants, some dressed as superheroes or in polar bear costumes, took turns splashing their way into the frigid water.

They ran toward the river, but ran even faster back up the bank and into a warming tent.

“The snow put a scare in us this morning,” said Bend resident MaryLou Chavira-Grever, who jumped in with co-workers from the Fred Meyer stores in Bend and Redmond. “But I did not give it a second thought.”

Students from Sisters High School all wore dresses as they waded into the river.

Zach Vialovos, 16, a sophomore at Sisters High School, said it was his first time participating in a polar plunge and he wasn’t going to turn back despite the weather.

“Too late now,” Vialovos said before the plunge. “Let’s go for it.”

Organizers of the polar plunge, a fundraiser for Special Olympics Oregon, roped off a section of the riverbank for the event and cleared away ice that was forming on the shore.

Deschutes County Search and Rescue members, dressed in dry suits and safety helmets, stood waist deep in the water ready to protect the participants.

Madras High School’s associated student body and leadership class made the trip down for the polar plunge in Bend before the snow started to fall.

The Madras students come to the polar plunge each year dressed in costumes. This year, the students dressed as superheroes and wore blue caps.

Like superheroes, the students didn’t hesitate and ran toward the icy river.

“It didn’t faze us,” said Annie Whipple, a senior at Madras High School. “Not at all.”

The snow stopped falling during the plunge, but started again Saturday afternoon, dropping a few inches of snow in Bend and up to two feet in the mountains.

The National Weather Service issued winter weather warnings for the state this weekend, and expects more snowfall through the week. Central Oregon was under a weather advisory that is expected to last until 7 a.m. Sunday. The conditions kept road crews busy. Oregon Department of Transportation crews worked 12-hour shifts Saturday using every piece of equipment with a plow. In Bend, the roads were slippery Saturday, but the city had plows out early.

David Abbas, streets and operations director for the city of Bend, said the city had 10 plows out on roads from 4 a.m. to noon and another seven plows scheduled to run from noon to 8 p.m.

Crews worked overtime Saturday and Sunday, Abbas said. Monday through Friday, Abbas has his regular crew available to work up to 12-hour shifts each day.

In extreme winter storms, the city has a total of 30 plows and splits them into 15 working 12-hour shifts. Abbas said. Abbas is ready for that maximum response if needed this week.

“Monday morning, we will have our full crew, and we can call more people in as needed,” he said.

The priorities for the plows are the main roads and areas around schools and businesses. Once those areas are clear, the plows can start working on residential neighborhoods, Abbas said.

“If all of that looks good, we’ll turn our crew loose on some of the residential routes,” he said.

— Reporter: 541-617-7820, kspurr@bendbulletin.com

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