More than 5,000 people packed Bradford Beach along Lake Michigan for the annual New Year’s Day Polar Bear Plunge.

The unseasonably warm weather attracted a near record crowd for the aquatic tradition. In past years, participants had the challenge of navigating snow drifts and ice chunks before entering the frigid Lake. This year, under a cloudless blue sky and bright sun, the water temperature of 30° was very close to the air temperature, making the plunge less of a shock for swimmers. However, taking a dip in winter is still not considered a leisure activity, even in Milwaukee.

Rescue divers from the Milwaukee Police and Fire departments were deployed along the beach, about 50 meters from shore, to provide emergency assistance. None was required for the estimated 500 individuals who made the winter splash.

The event was free and open to the public, with no registration require. Local families have embraced this Milwaukee tradition with the tailgating spirit, by snacking around campfires on the unfrozen sand.

These images captured the unique Milwaukee spirit, as community residents braved winter conditions to join the first public event of the New Year.

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Lee Matz