Once again we find ourselves stuck in an unstable weather pattern with water levels predicted to spike next weekend (currently somewhere around 25kcfs, most sandbars go away at 15kcfs). This is a real repercussion of climate change in the Midwest as storm systems have become more erratic and intense.
The rate of warming in the Midwest has markedly accelerated over the past few decades. Between 1900 and 2010, the average Midwest air temperature increased by more than 1.5°F. However, between 1950 and 2010, the average temperature increased twice as quickly, and between 1980 and 2010, it increased three times as quickly as it did from 1900 to 2010. 1.5°F doesn't sound like much but it is a huge statistical movement. This is an absolutely massive amount of additional energy that needs to go somewhere, and often you'll find it driving more power into these storm systems.
These are the observed results of thousands of different observations and experiments. Even our own local USGS gauge readings dating back 100+ years has shown a noticeable increase in river variability and increasing periods of high water, particularly over the past 10-15 years. Long story short, expect our questionable spring conditions to continue, both this season, and all seasons thereafter.
Watch the graph below to see what might happen over the next week. Forecasts are updated twice a day during high water conditions. We're aiming to be at 13.5' or below.
No luck this time around. Water levels will stay high through the Memorial Day weekend and quickly start dropping Monday into Tuesday. Locally, we'll have a lot of rain all day Friday so Tuesday might slip into Wednesday but everything north of us looks good and that's where we get into problems as the watershed funnels down into our stretch of river. Long story short, this weekend is shot for canoe camping trips but next weekend is looking probable.
We still have day trips going out though it's worth keeping in mind that you'll be in the boat pretty much all day as the sandbars will be underwater. The silver lining is that you're able to paddle into the trees and down back channels of the river that aren't normally accessible. Either way, if you plan to head out on the river this weekend, you should have some basic paddling skills - I wouldn't recommend this as your first time.
The graph below will continue to update with the most recent river forecast. We aim to be under 13.5' and we've got a 12-24 hour lag as the water travels from this gauge to our location downstream.
5/21 7:07am Update:
Just waiting on this morning's river forecast update. Castle Rock about 36 hours upstream is still putting out a lot less water than expected given what is going on upstream of Castle Rock. This is not promising as I think it'll push elevated flow rates further into the weekend. That said, our current plan is that we will officially cancel overnight trips, day trips are still good to go, and while there will be no guarantees of places to camp, there should be at least a couple if water levels stay below 25kcfs (expected). So, if any overnighters want to give it a chance with the expectation that no legal places to camp (no shoreline camping!) means you'll finish as a day trip and we'll refund the unused days. (This part is still unofficially official, emails will go out later today confirming)
The most recent river forecasts are out and they aren't great. After taking into account the rain forecasted over the next 24 hours, it's expected that river levels will maintain their elevated status. Furthermore, our unstable weather system will remain in the area throughout the week, possibly right into Memorial Day weekend.
At this time of year, there isn't a lot of greenery to soak up all of that extra moisture so soils are quick to saturate and then everything runs straight off the land into the river system. That means even relatively small storms over a broad area of our watershed cause problems with putting sandbars underwater.
We won't make an official cancellation call for another few days, waiting until after the forecasts take account for actual rainfall, but it's not looking great. If you haven't already made plans to be on the river, you may want to hold off on this one. For everyone else with reservations, we'll be in touch via email.
To get an idea of how it's going, we aim to be under 13.5' at the Portage river gauge. The forecasts are typically updated everyday around 9am and 9pm.
Looks like our high waters won't quite be out of the system before this weekend so our first official day will be May 25th. Long range forecast has some rain/storms over the weekend but so far this appears limited to southern WI and lower which is great news for us and means I'm pretty optimistic about getting everyone out over Memorial Day Weekend (though we won't be confident one way or the other until next Monday or Tuesday).
As always, we're aiming to be in (or very near) the white area of this graph.
It's been a cold and wet spring so I propose we're due for a reversion to the mean with a hot, sun filled summer. Water levels are currently running well above their long term average with more wet weather in the near future. This means sandbars likely won't reappear for another week or two at the earliest. Luckily, for us, our opening weekend is still a few weeks out.