Conditions are good and getting better. Sandbars are out in large numbers and by Thursday it'll be more sand than river. The weather is looking phenomenal for being on a river. Highs in the upper 80s (albeit sticky so more like 90s) and a massive high pressure system building so clear sunny skies for dayz.
Wind forecasts are light and out of the east (tailwind) until Sunday (a rare win). I haven't formalized my rating system but were it a few degrees cooler this coming week would rate as a solid 10 out of 10 (for now, it's a 9.5). After two months of questionable weather and/or river conditions, this is a welcome turn of events.
Behind the scenes, this stretch of nice weather coincides with the 4th of July week which, while not our busiest rental period of the year, does bring out all of the crazy Karens that didn't read their confirmation email or the front page of the website (or any other page of the website). This results in the busiest workload of the year. Last week we sent out 878 system emails and another 171 manual emails. We received 279 phone calls and 140 text messages. Most of those were in the last 3 days. All while trying to do our actual jobs, which is get people in their boats and on the water.
If it sounds like I'm complaining about having too many customers, it's because I am. Most of you all are great, don't get me wrong. You read your emails, do basic research, and if you need to get in touch, you write quick, actionable messages. When I say that we love having 95% of you all, it's absolutely true. The other 5%...they seem to really crowd into the next few days, all of which is to say, sorry for our slow response times this week! -Ryan
Water levels are coming down, more sandbars everyday, and the long range forecast looks amazing. This coming 4th of July weekend seems to have everything going for it!
I made a bad call
Now that we're less than 12 hours away from sending out Saturday night trips, the actual conditions have started to show up in our local gauges and they are trending at the higher end of the range I gave yesterday. In hindsight, if I was making this weekend's go/no go call two days ago, I would have cancelled. But since I didn't do that and you're all planning to head out for a trip this weekend based on my recommendation, I'm here now recommending you come back and try another time.
To put this recommendation in perspective, I'm camped out in northern Wisconsin for a few days and found it necessary to drive 20 minutes down the road to a community center parking lot and jump on the public wifi at 10pm because our campsite has barely enough service to load the river graphs I've been compulsively checking all day.
You'll notice I said recommendation, not outright cancellation. Here are a bunch of facts and details on that: The storm that came through a few hours ago added maybe 1-2kcfs (so far) to the outflow at the dam where we start our PDS trips. This has moved the needle from 16kcfs to 18kcfs. I don't know if it'll hold there or continue to climb temporarily (it wasn't bad, the worst of it missed our watershed). Our normal threshold to cancel is 15kcfs or at least close to it with a downward trend (we were right at that limit).
We have ~100 people planning to camp overnight Saturday spread through maybe 20 groups. No idea what you might expect for private trips that don't check water levels. My 17kcfs sandbar satellite images posted yesterday are going to be too optimistic. Worst case, my most recent images (taken yesterday) have ~7-10 good campable sandbars. You can compare 21kcfs Mazomanie to Arena and Arena to Spring Green images to the 17kcfs images.
The silver lining is that Saturday evening will be as high as the water gets. Beyond that, a more recent drop of ~3kcfs from upstream will reach us and bring the water back down 5" or so which gets us back to about where we'd normally be comfortable sending out trips.
Long story short, you should cancel and get a full refund. If you want to go anyway because you're all packed and ready for an adventure, that's fine, but be ready for small, wet sandbars. Worst case, if you can't find anywhere to camp and end up back at your cars, you can come crash in our field next to a bunch of canoe trailers. Our only amenity is a portapotty.
It wouldn't be a bad idea to wake up and look at our current conditions page on the website before you get in the car. If that graph at PDS is still holding above 18,000cfs, I myself would cancel my trip. And you can do that too, just shoot us an email or text message.
Sorry I made the wrong call guys. Hopefully everyone is able to salvage their weekend as best they see fit!
Final update for the weekend - I was feeling real good about the drop in water levels until I noticed the Lemonweir River running over 2kcfs. That was a big surprise whereas the Baraboo River is the next tributary over and it's running less than half that (usually these roles are reversed).
Why is this important? It adds variance to the water level forecast that could put us much closer to the limit of sandbar availability than I'd normally be comfortable with. It's hard to convey just how many camping options disappear between 15kcfs and 18kcfs. That said, there are absolutely sandbars out there, they are just limited in number (maybe 20 good ones) and any of the larger ones should expect to have multiple groups camped on them. On the bright side, it's still better than a state park campground.
While I'm not going to outright cancel overnight trips, I do want you to be aware that you can't be picky about your sandbar. If you see one that's campable, take it. To help with knowing what to aim for, the satellite photos below were taken earlier this year at very similar water levels.
As for the weather, the Friday night storm has diminished in total expected rainfall (under a half inch last I saw), but wind ahead of the front will still be a concern, particularly for your tents. Be ready to save the tent, drop the poles at the corners, weight it down, tie it to a canoe, etc. By far the biggest source of rescue calls has been tents destroyed by wind right before dark. Don't be that group. The rest of the weekend looks amazing so you've got that going for you! -Ryan
Quick update: Just got the drop in water levels at Castlerock - Friday night trips and beyond are 100% on!
While we're likely to get a storm rolling through Friday evening, it's very unlikely to drop enough water to change anything for us, certainly not overnight. That said, if you're in a storm Friday, your tent is by far the thing you should worry about. High winds ahead of the storm front can shatter tent poles or outright blow your tent away if it's not weighed down. If you have fiberglass poles (i.e. cheaper tents), I'd really recommend dropping the tent for those few minutes of wind and then pop it up before the rain.
Water levels are currently still high enough to cover most sandbars and overnight trips are on hold through Thursday. Day trips are still good to go and feedback about current conditions from those that weren't planning to camp has been good. The rain storms of the past few days have pretty evenly covered the state and water levels have already peaked upstream.
What I'm really waiting to see is a bigger drop at Castlerock. Ideally it'd be running under 12,000. I do think it's coming, and with any luck, it'll happen by late Wednesday or very early Thursday. If it hasn't dropped by Thursday morning, Friday night won't be an option for camping.
The graph below is a good one to watch. Once it happens, it'll take about a day and a half for that water level drop to reach our section and bring back enough sandbars to have everyone camp out. Why the focus on Castlerock? The dams between us and them are 'run of river' dams. They operate under a federal permit that absolutely requires what goes in must come out. Castlerock is the last place above us with the ability to release or withhold water at their discretion.
A Monday evening update for you - southwest WI got socked pretty good, but that's fairly inconsequential for us. The rest of the state, particularly the watershed, didn't see a ton of action. And even though there's a chance of rain pretty much everyday for the next 10 days, the overall rain totals are less than 1/10 of an inch per day which is manageable. If we can get through another two weeks or so until summer really kicks in, water levels will become much less fussy.
Tonight's river prediction has us right on the bubble for Friday trips. It'll take another day or so for the models to gain some accuracy but I wouldn't be surprised to see water levels come down (marginally) sooner rather than later. In fact, they appear to have peaked a day or so upstream. The graph below is still the one you'll want to keep an eye on - still aiming to be heading below 13.5' for a sufficient number of sandbars to return.
This last weekend was a perfect example of why we don't cancel trips based on weather forecasts. Very little rain, mostly isolated, with great water levels. River forecasts, on the other hand, I pay attention to. And while we didn't get the rain down here, it did track through our northern watershed again so we'll see water levels come up for a little while in a few days.
Best guess at the moment: Day trips won't be impacted. Overnights will be cancelled between this Tuesday until probably Thursday though there will be a small handful of sandbars and next to no one out there so I'd probably send a group out if they knew what they were doing. Tomorrow could change things a fair amount based on how closely rainfall matches the forecast.
Keep an eye on the graph below, we want to see that number heading below 13.5'
Friday evening update: Few sprinkles today, not bad. Sunday still looking dry. For tomorrow, from our local NWS forecaster:
Saturday and Saturday night…Forecast Confidence is Medium.
Unsettled weather is expected for Saturday. Showers and a few
storms will likely be ongoing to start the day over southwestern
WI. Heating and increase in instability will gradually increase
shower/storm chances through the day. Not looking at an all
day washout, but coverage should increase in the afternoon
through the evening hours. A few strong storms are
plausible, with a risk for localized damaging wind gusts and
small hail. Locally heavy rain is possible, but it looks like a
boom/bust day where some folks get dumped on, and a few miss out.
Showers/storms will persist into the evening before shifting
east/northeast overnight Saturday night.
Water levels are back down where we need them to be and sandbars are out! This last stretch of perfect weather was a huge help. The downside to this upcoming weekend is that the mass of high pressure keeping us dry is breaking down and it seems very likely we'll be hit with a few fronts between Friday and Monday - you're definitely gonna want to bring the rain gear and some tarps.
Models have been fluctuating all week and there's still only a medium confidence level in them. Current predictions are up to 50% chance of some isolated rain and maybe thunder Friday afternoon/evening followed up by up to 75% chance of another slow moving front on Saturday that will bring possibly an inch of rain over the course of the day. Luckily there's not a big risk of storms (<5%). But hey, Sunday is nice!
As for how this might affect water levels - the fronts are pretty widespread across the state so it's possible we could see sandbars go back under for a couple days. If that happens, it shouldn't be until maybe Tuesday.
Water levels from the recent tropical storm remnants are currently peaking and will begin dropping quickly. We'll have sandbars back by Wednesday morning and the forecast is dry statewide so I'm very confident in our ability to put out trips by Thursday and through the weekend.
Speaking of the weekend (6/19-6/21), looks like the high pressure system that is keeping us dry will start to break down leaving us with some more active weather. Still a lot of uncertainty this far out but seems likely we can expect some classic hot and humid weather with chances of isolated storms popping up here and there. This will be more of a concern for the day trips than the overnighters. Either way, I'll keep an eye on it. Happy to have better water levels for now.
3rd year in a row where I think maybe we should just stay closed until July...
The storm wasn't so bad in the lower 2/3rds of the river. Unfortunately, the northern 1/3rd did get 3-4" of rain. From what's happening now up in Merrill/Tomahawk area, it's not a question of 'if' we'll lose sandbars, it's 'when'. The timing, once again, puts that water getting to us right in the middle of the weekend. I think Friday night might be fine, but Saturday night would be sketchy and it's more than enough for us to call off overnight trips for the weekend. Day trips will still be fine - there are places to stop, just not enough to camp on (you could also cancel your day trip as well).
If you've got a trip going out this weekend, we'll be in touch shortly. While the current default is to cancel trips,
there's an outside chance that the rising waters won't reach us until Sunday so if you're really itching to go, you can hold out hope for another day or two before we might break your heart again. Our answer came pretty quick - most sandbars will be at or below water level sometime early Friday.
Quick update for Tuesday night before I can make a more thorough one Wednesday evening:
The most recent forecasts released for river levels seem way too unrealistic. Most of the rain (so far) has fallen to the west of the river valley and the river level forecast is higher with 1/3 (so far) of what we got two weeks ago. I have to believe we'll see this revised down in tomorrow's updates.
Where will that leave us overall? Still too soon to tell but my feeling is that we've got a 50/50 chance of water levels staying below where we need them to be. In addition to the previously posted graph, I'm also keeping an eye on this one below. We'd like to be under 13.5' More tomorrow evening.
First, special thanks to everyone that went out this past weekend. We were hit with a huge rush of last minute reservations and this brought to light a few flaws in our modified COVID operations. But almost every one of our customers pulled through, followed directions, and were able to enjoy one of the best early season weekends we've had in quite a while. Thanks for that!
As for this coming weekend, well, it could be interesting. The weather looks absolutely perfect again. The sticking point will be whatever happens tomorrow night as the remnants of a tropical storm pass over the state. Current predicted rainfall amounts are (and have been) pretty consistent around the 1-1.5" mark and that's likely to cause problems this early in the year over such a widespread area.
The dam at Castlerock (36 hours upstream, the nearest dam that has control over the amount of water they can hold back or release) has gotten a jump on the forecast and while I've posted the NWS hydrologic predictions below, the prediction hasn't taken the current release into account at the time of this writing. It's likely we'll either see sustained high but not 'no sandbar' high water through the week, or we get completely washed out and flow rates up north quickly rise Wednesday reaching us in the middle of the weekend. More updates as the data starts coming in Wednesday.
This all assumes we get a lot of rain in the 'wrong' places. If you want the finer points, here's what our local NWS forcaster is pulling from the models: precipitable water values of 2.2-2.4 inches (I believe this is at or above record level), high precipitation efficiency, and strong lift are all very favorable for heavy rain and possible flooding, but the heavy rainfall axis remains over western WI (good for us if it can stay west of the central river valley) along the track of Cristobal. The probabilistic rainfall forecast based on the 25-75th percentiles from the [models] ranges from 1.25-2.5 inches over south central WI with 0.5-1.0 inches over far southeast WI. Probability for 2+ inches is at 60 percent over far western WI to 40 percent in Madison and less than 10 percent for far eastern WI. Fast movement may lower risk of flooding.
Given the smaller number of sandbars, I pulled up satellite images from similar water levels last month (4/16/20). You may want to use these to plan a few campsites and know where the sandbar of last resort is. I believe these images are worst case; water levels should be another 6" lower at least, and dropping, which adds quite a bit of sand. Currently looks like we'll have about 20 groups out overnight Saturday.
Side note: the upstream dams cut back a few hours ago so conditions looking pretty good for an early season weekend.
Was a little nervous about the storms we had last night but rainfall was fairly limited and the weather is still on track for a great weekend. Sandbars are starting to emerge but they'll be fairly limited. You can't be too picky this weekend!
Water levels are still trending down and based on what I'm seeing in Castlerock/Petenwell area, I wouldn't be surprised to see a relatively big drop in dam output sometime Thursday. This would be great timing for a Saturday arrival of more sandbars.
Previous update: 6/1 @ 2:33pm
Welcome to the 2020 paddle season!
Water levels after last Thursday's rain are coming down nicely. Sandbars should start coming back in force on Wednesday and if all goes according to forecast, should be in really good shape for the weekend. Speaking of forecasts, 5 days out and it's looking real nice.
High 70s, low 80s, and sunny for the majority of it. Even light winds coming from the east (which never happens and is much more enjoyable than the headwind we usually get). I'll keep an eye on water level trends over the next couple days and be back with another update before the weekend, probably Thursday.
As for corona watch, buses are still limited to ~10 people and no gear so still 'drivers only' while all passengers and gear must be dropped off at the starting point for your trip (more details in your confirmation emails).