Kern River Conditions

Below is the rolling monthly forecast for water flows. I try my best to get it updated at the beginning of the month but am often delayed on that.

Information on getting hourly Kern river flows can be found here.

January 2022 Outlook

Posted: 12/31/2021

Upper Kern is flowing at 380 CFS
Lower Kern is flowing at 373 CFS
Lake level is at 52618 acre-feet

January 2022 Outlook

I, fortunately, missed the mark last month so I will aim a little higher for January: We’re going to have a period of dry starting now which will be reflected by the flows and some moderate storms returning bumping the Upper Kern above 500.

December 2021 Recap

In my last post, I had mentioned that it was “Dry, dry, dry. Odds of a ‘Big Water’ year are looking slim…By me posting this the odds increase of a massive winter, so who knows – let’s see how the cards lay this month.” And boy have things turned around. In the last 14 days Tahoe set records for December snowfall and our region was also hit fairly hard. The Southern Sierra snowpack is currently registering 55% of the April 1 average and 172% for today’s date – HOWEVER – the Southern Sierras include many drainages further north than what ends up in the Kern river, so these figures are skewed high if you’re looking for Kern specific data. I’m seeing more around mid 30% of April 1 average. These numbers are fine, but I would argue there is some irrational exuberance on staking the upcoming season as “in the bag” or worse a Big Water year which is being echoed around boating forums and even being reflected by customer calls. 12/31/2012 is a painful memory and is similar to where we stand today, which was a strong snowpack as of right now and then a big nada for the rest of the year.

Realism (or fine, pessimism) aside, there were good flows to be had in December as shown in the screen capture below of the Upper Kern nearly touching 2,000 CFS about a week ago. It would’ve been miserably cold, but hey, that’s good water.

2021 Kern River flow into Kernvile

December 2021 Outlook

Posted: 12/3/2021

Upper Kern is flowing at 158 CFS
Lower Kern is flowing at 220 CFS
Lake level is at 49817 acre-feet

Dry, dry, dry. Odds of a “Big Water” year are looking slim. We are still early though in terms of winter and snowpack but NOAA is at 90% chance of La Nina for our region which typically favors a sub-average winter. By me posting this the odds increase of a massive winter, so who knows – let’s see how the cards lay this month. I expect flows this month to remain mostly the same with the exception of the Upper Kern if it gets colder then it’ll drop a bit.

November 2021 Outlook

Posted: 10/27/2021

Upper Kern is flowing at 121 CFS
Lower Kern is flowing at 155 CFS
Lake level is at 50,919 acre-feet

Posting this early because I will be off the grid for most of November. Anyway. A record breaking storm for northern CA, which was a glancing blow for Southern CA, dumping an unconfirmed three feet of snow in our Mt. Whitney drainage. Which considering this is October, is great news. The forecast for the next three weeks looks normal ie relatively dry so no bump in flows are expected on the Upper or Lower Kern.

October 2021 Outlook

Posted: 10/10/2021

Upper Kern is flowing at 100 CFS
Lower Kern is flowing at 91 CFS
Lake level is at 50893 acre-feet

A quick hitting storm bumped flows slightly, but more importantly, was able to help extinguish fires in the area. Outflow is expected to roughly match inflow for the fall.

September 2021 Outlook

Posted: 9/8/2021

Upper Kern is flowing at 71 CFS
Lower Kern is flowing at 98 CFS
Lake level is at 54196 acre-feet

Water is low, too low to even tube. The outlook is it will stay in these flows until our first winter storm. Not a whole lot to report on overall.

August 2021 Outlook

Posted: 8/4/2021

Upper Kern is flowing at 164 CFS
Lower Kern is flowing at 234 CFS
Lake level is at 59891 acre-feet

The 2021 rafting season has officially concluded. Many of the monthly updates will look similar for quite a while barring a winter storm (fingers crossed). The slight bump in flows on the Upper Kern is due to monsoonal thunderstorms which, while infrequent, are normal for this time of year. Likely by October, the outflow on the Lower Kern will match inflow to keep the lake level constant.

July 2021 Outlook

Posted: 7/8/2021

Upper Kern is flowing at 106 CFS
Lower Kern is flowing at 331 CFS
Lake level is at 70160 acre-feet

The Upper Kern has petered out and by my standards (200 – 500 CFS), is now too low even for tubing. For July, the Upper Kern will continue to trend down and bottom out in the 90 CFS range. The Lower Kern recently dropped to 331 CFS, which is still do-able in a small raft on the Jungle Run section, but there isn’t much downward room below that. Miracle or Big Five are not possible in a raft at these flows. I expect Lower Kern flows to be between 200 – 400 for the remainder of the month.

June 2021 Outlook

Posted: 6/8/2021

Upper Kern is flowing at 320 CFS
Lower Kern is flowing at 708 CFS
Lake level is at 89422 acre-feet

The 2021 Upper Kern season for rafting has concluded. For June I expect the Upper Kern to trend down towards the 200 range. The Lower Kern is the new wild card. Projected flows were showing low flows but then the heat came on and it touched 800 CFS for a short period of time. My guess is we’ll be between 500 – 750 for June most likely, which unfortunately toggles the range of what sections are open down there.

May 2021 Outlook

Posted: 5/3/2021

Upper Kern is flowing at 561 CFS
Lower Kern is flowing at 400 CFS
Lake level is at 91,850 acre-feet

The Upper Kern may have peaked yesterday at 805 CFS. For May I expect the Upper Kern to be similar to what we saw in April, but towards the end of the month, we will be on the backside of the trend with decreasing flows. So between 400 – 650 CFS on the Upper Kern.

For the Lower Kern, I expect it to be 400 CFS for the entire month of May without much fluctuation.

April 2021 Outlook

Posted: 4/3/2021

Upper Kern is flowing at 365 CFS
Lower Kern is flowing at 350 CFS
Lake level is at 93,762 acre-feet

Unfortunately, a March Miracle or even March Mitigation did not materialize, so our snowpack did not grow. The official reading is based on April 1, which on average is when the snowpack is the deepest, and for Southern California that rang in at 41%.

For April I expect the Lower Kern to hang in the 400 CFS range and the Upper Kern to swing between 400 and 650 CFS.

March 2021 Outlook

Posted: 3/7/2021

Upper Kern is flowing at 217 CFS
Lower Kern is flowing at 264 CFS
Lake level is at 94,445 acre-feet

February ended up being quite dry, despite historically being the wettest month of the year for California. In some years this wouldn’t be a big deal, but in a lackluster winter such as this one, the deficit is being strongly felt. At this point, a March Miracle or mitigation will be necessary to ensure a normal length Upper Kern season. The Lower Kern is still too early to tell, but as of right now rafting on Labor Day is looking unlikely.

The outlook for March is pointing towards stormy weather but nothing significant in the ten day window. We shall see what gets delivered. March is typically the first crack at raftable flows and I do not think that will be likely this season, so I am projecting Upper Kern flows sub 300 for all of March with the Lower following suit.

February 2021 Outlook

Posted: 2/7/2021

Upper Kern is flowing at 244 CFS
Lower Kern is flowing at 314 CFS
Lake level is at 94,905 acre-feet

A large storm at the end of January dropped ~20% of April 1 snowpack in our drainage, which is quite large, but we’re still running at a season deficit. The storm was quite cold so nothing came down the Upper, which is good. The bullseyes of the storm missed us by about 50 miles, with Mammoth receiving over 10 feet of snow in a three day period. Outlook for February is uncertain with ops models showing some cut-off low storms but ensembles not in agreement yet and still showing an overall dry pattern. No flow change on Upper or Lower is expected unless a warm storm comes in, which is looking unlikely.

January 2021 Outlook

Posted: 1/3/2021

Upper Kern is flowing at 177 CFS
Lower Kern is flowing at 200 CFS
Lake level is at 96,599 acre-feet

A short hitting storm dropped some moisture around Christmas time. Looking forward no storms are on the forecast but Howard from Mammoth Weather is feeling confident of a pattern change. We shall see. Flows aren’t expected to change unless we get a winter storm.

December 2020 Outlook

Posted: 12/2/2020

Upper Kern is flowing at 160 CFS
Lower Kern is flowing at 200 CFS
Lake level is at 97,462 acre-feet

The high pressure ridge is looking to retrograde slightly which should open the storm door up a bit. If this happens then inside sliders would be able to drop some precipitation in the area. Still, nothing significant yet in the long range forecast.

December flow projections are for the Lower to remain at 200 CFS and the Upper about the same unless we get a storm. If there is storm activity then it will tick up a bit.

November 2020 Report

Posted: 11/25/2020

Upper Kern is flowing at 180 CFS
Lower Kern is flowing at 140 CFS
Lake level is at 97,833 acre-feet

I’m playing catchup as I was on a three week canyon trip, but as usual for this time of year, much of the same. A quick-hitting, cold storm did come through the Kern drainage in mid-November which was a nice start for our 20-21 winter. With a high pressure ridge in place, no storms are on the horizon for the time being.

November is practically over, so no flow projections provided.

October 2020 Report

Posted: 10/3/2020

Upper Kern is flowing at 125 CFS
Lower Kern is flowing at 192 CFS
Lake level is at 100,925 acre-feet

Our water year officially ended three days ago. We are still months away from having any real glimpse of what our next season will look like, so kick back and don’t stress. The first storm of the season is possibly within the ten-day time frame. It is showing up on both the GFS and Euro models, but it is trending north, giving us at best a light sprinkle.

Flow projections for the month are the Upper will remain about the same as well the Lower Kern.