Monday, May 22, 2017

Turning a cold shoulder to forecasters

By David Horst

We had a very nice paddle Sunday — a small, intimate group, strong flow in the river and the wind at our backs.

More on that, but first, I have to let loose of some rage.

Last Thursday — 48 hours before a weekend with two paddles scheduled on the Upper Fox River — the forecast for the Princeton area was unequivocal. From 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, between 70% and 90% chance of thunderstorms. I’d never seen such a dramatically certain forecast telling padders to stay off of the water.

As organizers of the North East Wisconsin Paddlers public paddle series, our course was clear. We needed to call off Saturday’s trip for the safety of the participants and to give ample notice to people traveling from farther away. You don’t argue with 90% certainty of thunder and lightning. We posted the messages on web and Facebook and sent emails to everyone we expected to come.

I joked with fellow trip organizer Jeff Mazanec that by canceling the trip we probably guaranteed Princeton would see no thunderstorms Saturday.

My prediction turned out to be the only one that was correct.

I will never, never, ever trust a weather forecaster again. Not Steve in the morning nor George at night. Not Pete, nor Cameron, nor even kindly Dave Miller. Not Accuweather, not, not Weather Underground.

Not even if John Chandik himself reached out to me from retirement.

By Friday, the 90% certainty for morning storms turned to rain to start the day and thunderboomers by 1 p.m. By Friday evening, the forecast for Princeton, WI, was pretty much: “We might see some rain tomorrow.”

I’m not going to say Saturday morning was pleasant. There was some rain, even heavy at times. No thunder. No lightning. It was 90% hogwash. These are weather conditions in which we would have paddled and then exaggerated later about the tough conditions we had incurred.

You will not see future go-no go decisions based on any forecaster’s hourly predictions. We’ll decide by standing at the launch location looking up and seeing if any bright lights crack across the horizon.

I feel better now.

We salvaged what we could of what we were calling the Three Good Dams Paddle — Princeton Dam to White River Dam on day one and White RIver Dam to Berlin Dam on day two. We rescheduled what was to be Saturday’s paddle to Sunday and won’t make up the Sunday route, which we have traveled several times before.

Back to Sunday. It was a small group of competent paddlers — an even dozen of us — so we moved quickly and stayed together as a group. The high water gave us a good push.

This is a good birding section of the river. We were serenaded by orioles, redwing blackbirds, sandhill cranes and the raucous call of a woodpecker. In the class of “big birds,” we had turkey vultures, red-tailed hawks, a great blue heron, osprey and a bunch of immature bald eagles. We saw four immatures together and at least one mature bird. There may have been more, depending upon how many times we were seeing return visitors. 

A cormorant repeatedly took up a position ahead of us, body low in the water and black head angled up.

It was a bit chilly on the water when the sun went behind a cloud — which was most of the time. But the wildlife, the scenery, the conversation left no one wishing they were back on shore.

That’s how the trip was received, and that’s how the next one will go. That’s a prediction you can count on.  

UP NEXT: The Peshtigo Flowage weekend - June 24-25

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