Washington Area Weather and River Conditions

Weather:

  • Latest narrative DC area weather forecast (from WeatherNews via Yahoo!)
  • Recent weather radar images from National Airport, either static or animated

Potomac River Water Conditions:

Potomac River Water Temperature
Printable Graph

  • PBC safety rules dictate that for club singles to be used, the water temperature must be at least 50 degrees (F). This is to protect club members from potential harm such as risk of hypothermia and cold shock. More information on hypothermia appears at an Ohio Department of Natural Resources site. You can find more information on cold shock at Atlantic Kayak Tours. Also, the American Canoe Association has information on both topics on their off-season boating safety page. There are also links to multiple sites with more information on hypothermia at a site provided by RealInsurance in Australia (thanks to Kristen McNeill for the link).
  • Water temperature at Little Falls (in °Centigrade)
    °C °F
    20 68
    15 59
    10 50
    5 41
  • River water level at Little Falls from the Middle Atlantic River Forecast Center
  • Water flow rate and river stages from the USGS
  • Interactive Chart for DC Area (and other) tides

When is the water too fast to launch a boat, and where should you row?

Potomac River Water Level
Printable Graph

Potomac Boat Club Board of Governors set a rule that no one should launch when the level at Little Falls is at or above 7 feet.  No one should launch club-owned boats when the 7 foot level is exceeded.

NOTE: The action level is 12 feet at Little Falls (LF) for moving any shells to higher ground in preparation for a flood.

Levels above 6 feet – if you are a recreational sculler or an aging one, or a young inexperienced crew, who is not quite fit and not able to easily combat swirly current and standing waves – just don’t go out.  It may be allowed, but don’t go.

Private boats can launch in levels above 7 feet, but the Float Captain cautions strongly against anyone launching any private boat when the level at LF is 8 feet and rising or 8.5 and falling.  At 8.5 feet, you have to be a very fast and skilled single sculler to get back through the Key bridge.  A pretty fast and strong 2x or 4x can do it – but you’d better be in pretty good shape because the run from Roosevelt to Key will take 20 minutes, not the usual 6 to 10 minutes. You must be fit.

At LF levels above 7 feet, in your private shell, you must be fit and skilled and ready for a tough passage back home through the Key Bridge. Decide if you are ready, be honest.

How to avoid swirly water:  When levels are above 5.5 feet, advice is to immediately row through the Key Bridge and continue downstream.  Check carefully and go through the first or second arch.  If there are crews coming up to Key Bridge, then cross the river when traffic allows and go through the traffic pattern arch (second away from Virginia) staying 70 to 100 yards upstream of Key Bridge until you safely align with the bridge arch, then turn and go through, downstream.
In the river until after Memorial Bridge, there will still be swirly water, but it gets better soon.   The second half of the ‘bridge to bridge’ and all the water beyond the immediate area of 14th is flat, calm and rowable without swirls.  As an example, crews head to the big radar at the airport- the 5 mile turn-around, or to Haines Point.  This will get a 9 or 10 mile row with 6-7 miles of perfect water.  At a level of 7.2, it takes 5 to 10 minutes longer to return than to go out.  At 8 feet, shorten how far you go downstream to get back to PBC at your usual time.

Weather and Water Conditions News