Update: 9/19 8:55am
We're right on the edge of our threshold for sending out trips Saturday and if we didn't have rain right now, I'd say it's on. But since it is raining, I have to err on the side of caution and officially cancel trips.
Really wanted to get out? Water levels out of the dams upstream are dropping as expected so if you don't mind the rain and keep an eye on the river, you could still get out there. I'm guessing less than 10 people camping on the river this weekend so the few sandbars that will be well out of the water are likely to be yours for the taking.
Our high water is receding though it's unclear if it will go down fast enough to get trips out this weekend. Keep an eye on the graph below - we want to see levels below 13.5' on Friday to send out trips Saturday. There will be a warm unstable airmass in place starting Thursday through the weekend and conditions will really depend on whether or not any heavy rainstorms come out of it since we'll be pretty close to our limit.
On the bright side, while the forecast calls for chance of scattered storms/rain over the weekend, total precipitation is currently under an inch with highs in the 70s.
Update: 9/11 10:51am
That came on fast. Latest river forecast out of NOAAs river prediction center has us completely underwater this weekend. It won't even be close. We stop trips at 15kcfs and are now expecting 30kcfs this weekend (normal is 5-7kcfs). Beyond the forecast, the actual numbers we're seeing up north already have us above the limit and we're still expecting 3-4" of rain across most of the state and our watershed (river forecasts only include the next 24 hours of predicted rainfall).
If you're looking for a last minute alternative and don't mind the extra travel times, the Kickapoo River might be okay. Camping is pretty limited to smaller groups though (I can personally recommend Kickapoo Wild Adventures in Ontario). You could also try the Manistee River in central Michigan or the Jack's Fork/Current River (personal favorite) in the Ozarks which should be better for larger 20+ groups.
Update: 9/10 8:12am
Yuck. South central Wisconsin (the heart of our watershed) took quite the hit last night and there is still another 3" of rain predicted for the same area of the state Wednesday and Thursday. Keep an eye on the graph forecast below, we want to stay at or below 13.5' on Friday and Saturday to put trips out. Either way, sandbars will be much smaller than they are right now which normally wouldn't be a concern except that we've got a few larger scout troops heading out this weekend. If you're one of those groups, we'll get you the high water satellite image from earlier this season that will help you pinpoint the location of sandbars able to accommodate your groups. The good news, given this is the second to last week of the season, is that there are very few total people actually going out so if we've got sandbars, it's shouldn't be a struggle to get one.
Looks like we're coming to the end of our great month of weather/water levels. Statewide forecast is calling for a couple inches of rain over the next two days. If this happens, we'll see water levels rise just in time for the weekend. Shouldn't be enough to shut us down but it does mean we'll have smaller sandbars and a little faster current. More updates to come as the forecast turns into reality and we see what falls where. At least the weather looks great for this weekend!
Rain across the northern part of the state will push our water levels up a foot over the next couple days at least (though we've got plenty of room to work with). Forecast calls for temps in the mid 70s with lots of clouds and chances of mild precipitation. Saturday should start out pleasant with the weather potentially getting a bit dreary Saturday night into Sunday.
Aside from a 25% chance of rain Saturday (and the associated mid 60s and cloudy), the weekend is looking pretty fallish. Mid to upper 70s and mostly sunny every day but Saturday. Water levels are solid with tons of sandbars. It's quiet(er) out there too. This is officially shoulder season.
We're starting to wind down for the year as everyone goes back to school or starts thinking fall. But, we've got two more weeks of peak season and this particular weekend is looking like it'll actually be the best one yet this year.
Water levels are great with tons of sandbars. Swimming will be good with water temps around 75 degrees. Mostly sunny and high temps forecasted in the mid to upper 70s with lows that are perfect for campfires and bundling up in a sleeping bag. To top it all off, should be light winds at your back. We've even still got a few boats left if you haven't already made a reservation. This weekend rates a solid 10 out of 10.
All in all we're looking at a fairly decent weekend. Spotty weather the next day or so here and across the state so we may again see a relatively small rise in water levels over the weekend but there is plenty of room to work with. As we're also getting late into the season, demand is starting to fall off and there will be fewer people out here than you'd see in late July or early August so competition for sandbars is relaxing as well.
Weatherwise, it's looking like we'll see a few shortwave troughs rolling through over the weekend so every day is looking at a generic 20% chance of storms but unlikely to be anything severe and total rainfall for the weekend is forecast to be well under an inch. That means, like every weekend, be prepared for the weather but expect the majority of the trip to be great. Highs in the upper 70s to mid 80s.
And if you're out this weekend, give a wave to the group of dads and their daughters. They'll be hard to miss as there's almost 60 of them. As a father of one little lady and soon another, this group is one of my personal favorites this year.
Update: 12:18pm 8/8/19
A couple more storms happened up north Tuesday and Wednesday - we're not in danger of cancelling trips but it does mean we'll get that rise in water levels right over the weekend. We'll probably lose about 12" of sandbar leaving us near the 10-12kcfs range which means our large sandbars will become small to medium size sandbars. Still room for everyone, you might just have to share some of the larger ones - good thing you're all cool people.
Beyond that, looks like it'll be a great weekend with temps in the high 70s/low 80s, good sleeping weather, and light winds. Small (<20%) chance of a storm Sunday afternoon/evening (currently forecasting no rainfall).
We'll have a quick storm roll through early tonight (Monday) and after that, clear skies through the rest of the week and right past the weekend. Water levels will likely see a small rise during the week but sandbars are huge right now and plenty of room to add a few inches of water.
Temps are looking pretty reasonable as well with a small cold front Friday and Saturday with light winds which means the current forecast looks great for the weekend.
I haven't seen a forecast this good in a long, long time. Aside from great weather to be outside in, this dry sunny stretch should really help drive down those recent high water levels to their late summer lows. I'd expect sandbars to be out in force by roughly Wednesday (though we've already got a fair number out there) and if this keeps up, they'll be classically large (like football field or bigger large) by the coming weekend (Aug 3/4).
If those light easterly winds stay in the forecast, we're on track for a 10 out of 10 weekend and we definitely haven't had one of those yet this year. This coming weeklong stretch is by far the best overall conditions we've had all year.
River levels are dropping quickly and as expected. We will just barely be able to squeeze trips out tomorrow (Friday) with Saturday and Sunday looking pretty good considering all of the rain that just made it's way through the system. If the mostly dry forecast ahead holds, we should be near normal flow rates and lots of sandbars very quickly, certainly by next weekend.
For this weekend, you can check out our previous updates for the nitty gritty but as I write this, the WI Dells are passing down through 11kcfs and the dam at the start of our stretch, Prairie Du Sac, is dropping quickly through 18kcfs (was at 27kcfs six hours ago). By late tonight we should be below our threshold of 15kcfs and I'm expecting to level off around 12-13kcfs Saturday morning through Sunday (1.5kcfs or so higher than the Dells due to the Baraboo River contributions between here and there).
Below is a recent satellite image from earlier this week at 12kcfs as the river was on the way up. I've added arrows to decent camping options. If an arrow has red, it's one of the safest bets as far as it will always be above water if we're putting trips out. It wouldn't hurt to download the full size image and bring it with you or mark these points on your own river map.
Update: 7/24 12:12pm
Nailed it. Dam at Castle Rock just dropped to 10.5kcfs (my graph doesn't reflect this at time of post but my data straight from the source below does) which should get us to ~13kcfs here with room for error under our 15kcfs cap. I'm expecting this flow rate to mostly hold through the weekend or drop marginally given tributary flowrates.
This 12-13kcfs flow rate is close to what I was out in last weekend when we were sold out and didn't see much crowding on sandbars so while sandbars won't be the size of football fields, there should be space for everyone. Trips will begin going out as scheduled Friday morning.
Update: 7/24 10:07am
Coming down to the wire for Friday trips. There's good news 48 hours upstream, now just waiting to see it happen at 36 hours (Castle Rock) before making an official call one way or the other. My only hesitation here is that the Yellow River (the only major tributary between Petenwell, 48 hours upstream, and Castle Rock, 36 hours upstream) is running at 96% of it's median flow rate, i.e. high. USGS Gauge says it's adding an additional 4kcfs which, if accurate, is crazy for a river that normally contributes .15kcfs.
As for the rest of the weekend, I'm really starting to think we'll have sandbars by Saturday (albeit fewer and smaller than normal). As soon as this graph for Castle Rock gets at or below ~10kcfs we'll be in good shape a day and a half later. For Friday trips to go out, I want to see it happen before 3pm today. 3pm tomorrow for Saturday trips.
Update: 7/23 7:21am
Still feeling pretty positive about this weekend. Real test will be by tomorrow (Wednesday afternoon) when actual water levels that we'll see start getting released up north. But for now, the numbers coming out of the central part of the state are promising. Everything above 48 hours upstream looks great. There's currently a 20 kcfs discrepancy at that point (Lake Petenwell/Castle Rock) where 2-3kcfs is normal and the reservoir levels at Petenwell are plunging and nearly back to normal. Combined with the dry forecast, this leads me to believe we'll see some major cuts in flow rate up there very soon lest they draw down too far. I'm guessing that'll probably happen later today/overnight. Regardless, if that cut happens before noon on Wednesday we'll be good to go for Friday and beyond. Any changes will be reflected in the graph below usually twice a day (morning and late evening).
We squeaked through the weekend with only 30 minutes of rain and decent, if still somewhat elevated, water levels. That's now over as all of the storms across the state on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday have made their way into the river system. Our stretch will be underwater by this evening and peaking sometime Tuesday or Wednesday in the mid to upper 20kcfs region (we aim to be under 15kcfs, normal is 7kcfs).
The weather forecast for the week ahead couldn't be more perfect to try and dry out before the July 26-28 weekend. High pressure, low humidity, lots of sun, and minimal chance of rain. From what I can see right now, we're definitely out of commision through at least Thursday. Friday is my stretch goal but I'm still mostly optimistic about Saturday. It's very likely the current river predictions will adjust in a favorable direction over the next day or two as tributaries become more stable and we can get a more accurate idea of what's happening.
Keep an eye on the graph below for those updates. This particular gauge is about 12-24 river hours upstream of us so what you're seeing here is like seeing a day or so into the future. We're looking to see this reading below 13.5'