Thursday night update: drops in water levels out of Castle Rock earlier so we'll get a little breathing room here by Saturday night.
Wednesday evening update:
Man, this is so painfully similar to a few weeks ago when we called trips as good to go, but then I undershot the actual water levels. It was a terrifying night watching the hourly dam flow rates come in at the mid 18,000s with 300 of our people camped out on the river. But, in the end, every group was able to find a place to camp, in some cases, just barely.
With that in mind, here's the final update on this weekend - water levels will be in the 16-18kcfs range until Saturday evening. It's very likely we'll start to see a drop overnight Saturday but it's not a sure thing yet and sandbars will still be small (will try to update as soon as it's guaranteed, likely Thursday night). That's not great but the water trend is 100% down so it's not going to force us to cancel overnight trips, though I wouldn't recommend going out at these levels (anyone wanting to cancel their trip with us this weekend is more than welcome to do so for a full refund).
To put that 16-18kcfs number into perspective, at 18kcfs we're at 4'2" deep. For fun: normal levels at this time of year are 1'6" at the gauge. Our normal cutoff is 15kcfs (3'7") which is the most conservative on the river, most other outfitters use 16 or 17kcfs. If it were at 3'7" I'd happily say 'go nuts'. Sounds crazy to be splitting inches but it makes a difference.
All of that said, current satellite images and personal experience show sandbars are marginally higher this year than in years past - my guess is that it's a result of the higher and more prolonged flooding we've had late last year and early this spring. Don't get me wrong, most sandbars out there right now are small and infrequent and the larger ones should expect to be shared (though still better spacing than a state park campground), but I think whereas 15kcfs in prior years was a 'safe' limit, it could probably be pushed a little bit this year (using the aforementioned experience of a few weeks ago as an example).
Basically, what I'm trying to say in a painfully convoluted way is that no, we aren't cancelling trips but if I just made you really nervous, you should cancel for a full refund. It's just such a close call this weekend and I don't want anyone to feel forced to go out there. And if you do go out, don't be picky - you find a sandbar that'll work? Take it.
Tuesday afternoon update:
Oh baby. We're leveling off upstream near Portage much lower than last night's forecast of 14.9'. Current prediction says 13.9' and looks like we're going to undershoot that as well. I'm normally happy at 13.5' but with how low the Baraboo River is, I think 13.9' would have still been right there at what I'd like to see by the time it hits us in Prairie Du Sac.
We've been rock solid coming out of the regulated reservoir system at Castle Rock so with everything in the lower half of the river system having avoided the rain storms, where we level off is where we're gonna stay through the weekdays (and then likely falling into the weekend) and right now, we're coming out as good as could be hoped for. Sandbars will be small, but they'll be there.
For reference, at anticipated water levels a few weeks ago, we sent out 300 people and every single one was able to find a place to camp). I'll continue to watch it with another update tomorrow evening for reassurance but it is looking good for getting trips out the rest of this week and through the weekend.
PS: The weather forecast still looks amazing for the next 10 days.
Monday evening update:
Yesterday's rain up north has made it into the river system and we've got a pretty good idea of what to expect now. Good news and bad: by Wednesday water levels will be up to possibly 18kcfs (~4' deep on our local gauge) which is about 6" higher than where we'd normally start to think about calling off a big weekend for lack of campsites. That said, water levels in Wausau where most of the 'damage' was done have already fallen off their peak pretty quickly and the relatively few people midweek mean there will still be sandbars to be had.
If you're out Tuesday night, expect to catch a lot of this rise overnight. Levels will go up ~1.5' over 24 hours (Tuesday evening to Wednesday evening) so make sure your tents and boats are at least a foot above the waterline when you go to bed Tuesday night.
If you'd like to have a good idea of where to aim for a 'safe' island in the next few days, these satellite images are from last month at ~21kcfs (6" higher than where I expect us to peak this week). Keep in mind that islands are the only legal place to camp (no shoreline) and some islands near the former nude beach will also be signed as no camping.
I'm still pretty optimistic we'll be able to run trips as normal this weekend but will need another day or two of data to be sure. In the meantime, you can watch for twice daily updates coming from the River Prediction Center on the graph below. We want to see that number heading towards 13.5' or less (I wouldn't be surprised to see the current peak revised down over the next day or two)
Sunday evening update:
There was a lot of rain in the northern third of our watershed over the last 24 hours but most of the remaining two thirds were spared. Water levels are ramping up pretty quick in the Wausau area about 3 to 4 days upstream so we'll start to see water levels come up probably around Wednesday. The good news is that current predictions wouldn't shut us down and the weather forecast is 100% amazing statewide with mostly sunny skies and warm temps throughout the next 10 days.
I'm pretty optimistic the rise in water levels will be short lived and start heading down just in time for the weekend; I'll continue to update here as we get a few more rounds of river forecasts out of the NOAA River Prediction Center.
Water levels are holding mostly steady or dropping so we shouldn't have any trouble keeping the sandbars we've got. Rain this week was less than expected and the forecast through the weekend looks pretty great (maybe a little breazy Sunday). Sandbars, while smaller than normal, are out there. Should be a pretty good weekend!
Monday morning update:
Water levels are continuing to recede. It's a little tight today and tomorrow but we'll start getting some more breathing room by Wednesday and that should get us to the start of the weekend. Beyond that, still questionable. It depends almost entirely on what happens with the rain tomorrow (Tuesday). The current forecast is calling for up to .75" of rain statewide. We'd normally be able to handle that in July without a problem but it's still pretty wet up north and what falls up north tomorrow is what will reach us this weekend so we'll just have to see what happens. Hoping to have a pretty good idea of what's going to happen this weekend by Wednesday evening.
On the bright side, other than tomorrow, the extended forecast looks fantastic for warm temps, relatively gentle winds, and lots of sun.
Saturday afternoon update:
Water levels will recede enough that we can start running overnight rips again beginning Monday. The caveat here is that the long term weather forecast is a little unsettled and up north has already gotten some rain. Since we haven't had a chance to really dry out, it won't take a ton of rain to drive water levels back up despite getting into peak summer when water levels have historically been less of an issue. Of course those historic levels don't account for climate change which has had a brutal and worsening impact on us over the past few years (midwest storms get bigger, drop more water, have more flooding).
I'll have a few updates this week as things start to shake out. -Ryan
Wednesday Afternoon Update
It's official - sandbars will be gone for a few days starting Friday
Dams upstream just started pumping out more than enough water to shut us down and it's likely to go higher yet. We'll have great conditions until early Friday morning (water will start rising overnight) but by Friday night there will be few sandbars and they'll be getting smaller by the minute.
Current river forecasts have us getting back to normal around Tuesday though this could vary a bit based on what happens with the unsettled forecast this week. I'll continue to post any substantial changes in the situation here. In the meantime, I'd recommend keeping an eye on the graph I've left down below.
For the time being, we'll continue running day trips. While there won't be many places to stop, the higher water levels do give you a chance to explore some of the lesser seen back channels and even paddle through the trees. I'd recommend having some basic paddling experience and (as always) wear a life jacket as there won't be many good options for getting back in your boat if it goes over in the middle of the river.
Wednesday Morning Update
We're definitely going to lose our sandbars. The question now is when. Overnight trips ending Sunday aren't looking good. Overnight trips ending Saturday are still questionable.
Tuesday night update:
It just never ends this year. Northern Wisconsin got hammered by rain again today. Given that it wasn't quite back to normal after the heavy rains last week, it's likely we'll get a lot more run off from this one. The Tuesday night NOAA river prediction center forecast has us out of commission late Saturday through Monday. This forecast also takes into account the predicted storms tomorrow (Wednesday) so it's not unlikely this could change (tomorrow's weather forecast doesn't have a high certainty level).
It's too soon to say which way it might go but cancelling overnight trips this weekend is a real possibility. At the very least we'll have smaller sandbars more typical of early June than mid July. The picture will be a lot more clear tomorrow night and especially Thursday morning so definitely check back later.
The graph below will be updated roughly twice a day with the latest river forecast. We want to be at or below 13.5' to have a decent number of sandbars. [For some perspective - last weekend was about as busy as it gets and the ~400 people on the river were all able to find something to camp on]
We'll be 100% back to normal by Wednesday, even if I can't say exactly how long they'll last. Water levels will take a substantial dive in about 36 hours though we're also expecting rain over most of the state tomorrow. Initial forecasts look okay so at this point, I'm not overly worried about it raising water levels too much but I'll keep an eye on it.
Beyond tomorrow, the weather forecast has us moving into an unsettled pattern with chance of rain/storms with a lot of heat and humidity through the weekend. All in all, not half bad for mid July.
Saturday afternoon update: Storms held off today, that was nice! Water levels up north have peaked and should start receding down here on Monday evening into Tuesday. If the current forecast holds, we should have plenty of sandbars for this coming weekend.
Thursday's rainfall was substantial and statewide. Water levels have come up quite a bit over the past 24 hours and will level off near the upper end of our overnight trip limit for sandbar availability. All overnight trips ending by Sunday shouldn't have much trouble though sandbars will be quite a bit smaller than usual and the larger ones should expect to have multiple groups camped on them (but still better than camping in a state park campground).
Beyond Sunday into the first few days of the week, it's likely we'll rise above our normal limit for overnight trips. That said, while there will be substantially fewer campable sandbars, there are even fewer paddlers. For reference, we've got 7 total canoes going out overnight between Sunday and Thursday compared to 116 canoes between Friday and Sunday. All of this is to say that while water will be cresting ~6" above our limits, there will be places to camp during the week. We should be back below those limits by Thursday.
If you're a larger group going out this weekend, the following satellite images were taken at similar water levels earlier this season. Good, campable sandbars have been highlighted. Any of these should hold 10-20 people *based on current river forecasts*. Mazomanie to Arena | Arena to Spring Green
Saturday afternoon will be worth watching for weather. Looks like a line of storms could rise north out of Illinois for a few hours in the afternoon. If that happens, be prepared for wind - if you've got a cheaper tent with fiberglass poles and no guylines, keep your tent down until the initial gusts of wind pass through (you should be able to get the tent back up before it starts to rain). Use paddles as deadman tent anchors buried in the sand. Tie your tent to a canoe or at least keep an eye on your canoes in case one tries to launch itself into the river. Wind is the biggest cause of problems on the water but it's easy to mitigate if you're ready for it. Even just parking your boat under a tarp along a tree lined piece of sand will let you ride out just about anything.
Final update: River forecast issued, we're okay through Sunday and overall levels should stay low enough that weekday overnight trips can continue given the handful of groups going for the handful of sandbars (you guys will get a more detailed email).
Friday morning update: Numbers up north are holding steady which will get us to Sunday morning at least. I'd still like to see the latest River Prediction Center update later this morning but for now, while it's close to our self-imposed limit, overnight trips should have enough islands to camp on though expect to share the larger ones. If you're on a trip this weekend and want to hold off for another weekend due to the continuing uncertainty, that's fine, just let us know. Will post another update in a few hours once that river prediction has been released for our area.
Thursday night update: those 'isolated storms' turned into a massive slow moving affair that drowned basically the whole Wisconsin River system. Water levels look to rise up to a foot by Saturday evening which will make camping tight but doable. Beyond that, the river prediction center is calling for another rise in water Sunday night that will put most sandbars under for a few days. I'll know the timing better on that by Friday afternoon. For now, we're still planning for all trips through the weekend as a go but I'll continue to update tomorrow as this storm shakes out.
Great weather continues with the extended forecast. Well, mostly. Thursday could be wet with isolated storms but those will finally clear out a lot of the excessive humidity just in time for the weekend and the drier weather should stick around well into next week.
Water levels are perfect, hovering around the long term average for this time of year. Tons of (big) sandbars but not so many you'll be running aground every 10 minutes (it'll be more like every 20 minutes - if you don't know what you're doing).
This Friday-Sunday is on track to be a perfect 10 out of 10 weekend, no exaggeration. Even the sunset mosquitoes haven't been terrible. Of course it also coincides with the peak of peak season. We're already sold out for the next two weekends so if you're looking for a boat, you'll want to check back every day for any cancellations (pro-tip, they tend to happen around 8-10am and 8-10pm).
If you want real solitude, head out on a weekday (even Sunday-Monday). As busy as the weekend is, there are maybe 20 people on 25 miles of river on any given weekday.