It’s gonna be tight!
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