Two Basic Websites for Understanding River Flows
When we are planning a rafting, kayaking, or fishing trip on the river, the first and most important thing to look into is the river flow. Flows don’t only determine the conditions for safety but also the chance for success of fishing trips. With snow melt, rain, and lots of other factors effecting river flow, it can be tricky predicting flow. Luckily there are some great free resources for river conditions.
For current river conditions and flow forecasts, we like to use the Northwest River Forecast Center by NOAA.
Similar to NOAA weather forecasts, you get a map where you can click on any river guage to get the actual measured current flow as well as a forecast. Here is an example:
River forecasts can be tricky, especially in systems with man-made alterations like dams, so you will want to be aware that a river forecast, like a weather forecast, may not always be accurate. They are formulated based on parameters like snow melt and rain, and not usually at all on the decisions that utility companies make about how much water to release from reservoirs.
If you want historical river flow data (for example, you want to know what the flow was last time you floated the river, or last time you caught fish in a certain hole), you’ll want to head over to the USGS National Water Information System Mapper
Click on the flow guage you are interested in and then click on “Access Data”. From there, click on Current/Historical observations. In the first box, you can change the start and end dates to look at historical flows and more.