Updated: Apr 5
We used artificial intelligence to predict the peak flow and dates for the spring runoff 2023. Check out our predictions for Idaho's Salmon River and the Middle Fork, found below.
It's that time of year again - when adventure seekers start planning whitewater trips. If you're planning a trip to Idaho this year, you might be wondering what kind of water levels you can expect.
Well, we don't have a crystal ball, but we do have some insights into the snowpack, weather patterns, historical data and a not so secret weapon (ChatGPT) that helped us make an educated guess.
First off, let's talk about the elephant in the room - the record-breaking snowpack that many western states, including Utah and California, are experiencing this year. The unusually intense winter has led to fears of flooding as the snow melts and makes its way into rivers and streams. While it's impossible to predict exactly how this will play out, it's safe to say that we can expect some big water this season.
So, what does this mean for your Idaho whitewater adventure? Well, it will all depend on how fast the snow melts and when you book your trip. Early June will certainly have big water, powerful rapids. The National Weather Service is expecting below average temps for the coming months. This could hold back snow until warm summer temps hit, resulting in a fast snowpack release. This is a risk any year, even with normal snowpack levels, but based on river history, even the highest of water years, return to normal by early to mid July.
Now, here comes the tricky part - trying to predict the exact flow rate of the river on a specific day. We'd love to tell you that on June 7th the Salmon River will be flowing at 84,000 cubic feet per second (cfs). but unfortunately, that's not something anyone can know for sure. However, we can tell you that in past high water years, we've seen flow rates in the 40,000 to 60,000 cfs range, with occasional spikes over 100,000 cfs. So, plan accordingly and be prepared for some exciting, challenging rapids!
Now let's feed this data into the AI chat monster by OpenAI.
I fed the AI data on Galena Summit and Banner Summit Snotel sites, USGS historic peak flow with dates, and historic monthly average temp data along with the prompt below:
To provide the highest probability date for peak streamflow and the peak in cfs, we need to analyze the historical streamflow data, snow water equivalent data, and average temperature data, along with the forecasted data.
Looking at the historical streamflow data, the peak streamflow in Salmon River at Whitebird, Idaho occurred between late May and mid-June in most years. The peak CFS ranged from 59,600 to 130,000, with an average of 87,579. We can use this information to estimate the expected range of peak flow and CFS for the current year.
According to the NWS climate prediction center, there is a 33% - 40% chance of below average temps for the area through May, with average precipitation, and 33% to 40% chance of above average precipitation over the next month. This indicates that the snowmelt may be slower than average this year, but the rainfall could make up for it.
To get a better idea of how much snowmelt we can expect, we can look at the snow water equivalent (SWE) data for the Salmon River drainage. As of April 1, 2023, the SWE is 120% of average. This means that there is more snow in the mountains than usual, which could contribute to higher peak flows if it melts quickly.
Based on the above information, we can estimate that the peak flow in Salmon River at Whitebird, Idaho this year will be between 80,000 and 110,000 CFS, with a higher probability of being closer to the lower end of that range.
Considering the historical data and forecasted conditions, the most probable date for the peak flow to occur is between May 20 and June 10. However, it is difficult to pinpoint an exact date since it depends on various factors such as precipitation, temperature, and snowmelt rate.
In summary, the highest probability date for peak streamflow at Salmon River at Whitebird, Idaho is between May 20 and June 10, with a peak flow between 80,000 and 110,000 CFS. It is important to note that this is just an estimate, and actual conditions may vary.
I think this prediction seems a bit high. Idaho snowpack isn't as high as the news headlines of snowstorms make it seem. 118% isn't crazy but it really depends how fast it comes off.
Now let's look at the Middle Fork of the Salmon:
Based on the historical streamflow data and the snow water equivalent data for the Salmon River drainage, it appears that the peak streamflow for the Middle Fork of the Salmon River USGS Gauge at the Middle Fork Lodge typically occurs in late May or early June.
Considering the NWS climate prediction center forecast of a 33% - 40% chance of below-average temperatures and 33% to 40% of above-average precipitation for the next month, it is likely that the peak streamflow for this year will occur slightly later than average.
To determine the highest probability date for peak streamflow and the peak in cfs, we need to consider the snow water equivalent data and the average air temperature data for May.
Based on the snow water equivalent data, 1998, 2004, and 2014 had the highest amount of snow water equivalent in May, which indicates that the peak streamflow in those years may have occurred slightly later than average. Additionally, the average air temperature data for May indicates that May 1990, 1991, and 2012 were relatively cool, while May 1998, 2003, and 2008 were relatively warm.
Taking into account all of this information, the highest probability date for peak streamflow this year is likely to be around May 25th to June 5th, with a peak flow of around 7,000 (5.8ft) to 8,000 cfs (6.2 ft) However, it's important to note that streamflow is highly dependent on weather patterns and can be difficult to predict with certainty.
Approaching 50 trips on the Middle Fork and from checking water and snow levels more than necessary over the years, I think this is surprisingly accurate.
Time will tell how this all plays out, but the same rules apply for high water each year. Make sure your team is prepared to handle what the river can bring in May and June. Consult with local guide services if you have questions.
July and August will deliver a great whitewater season with fun rapids lasting into the fall. 2023 will be a summer to remember.
Comment your predictions below!