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Here Comes the Sun... No, Really

"The news is good: La Niña is gone in Pacific Ocean tropics. Ocean temperatures have returned to normal, and that usually means warmer, drier weather ahead."

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Idaho won't need to make up a guest room this summer for La Niña or her equally pushy brother, El Niño, because neither will be heading to the Gem State for a while. This winter, La Niña sent a seemingly endless barrage of cold and wet weather systems into the region, delighting ski enthusiasts but keeping snow plow drivers on round-the-clock duty.

Now, hoping for sunny summer skies, it's time to take a look at the forecast.

"The news is good: La Niña is gone in Pacific Ocean tropics. Ocean temperatures have returned to normal, and that usually means warmer, drier weather ahead," said meteorologist Jay Breidenbach, casting a glance at his long-range models at the Boise office of the National Weather Service. "Normal highs for July are the low 90s. If you were looking at weather probabilities on a roulette wheel, about 45 percent of that wheel would be above normal temperatures for the upcoming summer."

Long-range conditions are equally positive for firefighters.

"The first part of what is traditionally the fire season looks like we'll be below the normal threat for wildfire activity in the forests, which are still nice and moist from the winter," said Breidenbach.

Senior Service Hydrologist Troy Lindquist was nearby at the NWS Boise office, looking at his water outlook for the summer.

"Right now, Idaho is completely free of drought," said Lindquist. "Soil moisture is good, the stream flows are normal or above normal, and our reservoir systems should be good for the next couple of months. That has everything to do with the snowpacks that are still up in the mountains. Some of that mountain snow should remain through July, especially on south-facing slopes."

Ada County officials—who oversee raft rentals and shuttle services every summer—are keeping a close eye on flow levels as residents and visitors ask about floating the Boise River this summer.

"There were some television reports that said the float season isn't going to happen this summer. It would be great if you could tell people that's not the case. It's not ruled out. That decision hasn't been made," said Ada County Public Information Officer Kate McGwire.

"For that to happen, we look at two things," she added. "Boise Fire and Rescue has to send in their dive teams to help clear unsafe debris from the river and, most importantly, the flows have to decrease to about 1,500 to 1,800 cubic feet per second."

That is a huge drop from the 9,500-plus cfs pushing through the Boise River as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation let water out of Lucky Peak Reservoir. On May 15 and 16, the Corps and the Bureau released water because 149 percent of normal snowpack remained in the mountains above Boise. Although anything greater than 7,000 cfs is considered flood stage, more water had to be allowed into the Boise River because of the extraordinary snowpack at high elevations.

"With the historic flows of the river right now, who knows how long it will take to get down to a safe current? That said, there is optimism. We're always hopeful for a floating season," said McGwire.

Meanwhile, at Idaho River Sports, co-owner Stan Colby said there are always plenty of floating and paddling opportunities in the region.

"The Boise and Payette River systems? Right now, they're for experts only, but I have to tell you, the experts are out there having the time of their lives. They're loving it," said Colby. "For the general population—especially those new to the sport—they may be thinking they can't get started yet, and that's simply not true. There are plenty of options out there."

Colby thinks a "deluge of media reports" are scaring away customers.

"All you're hearing from the news media is: 'The water's too high.' 'Stay away. It's dangerous.' Plus the snow you still see up in the mountains is causing people to think of anything but river sports," said Colby. "Is this year different that other years? Absolutely. The pond outside our back door is four feet higher than it was last year, but it's still a pond, and it's great for paddling. We had 200 people out there paddling yesterday."

Colby also pointed out a number of other spots he likes to call "paddle-able" in the Cascade, McCall and Stanley areas. Ultimately, though, it will take warmer, drier weather to get more people out on the water.

"Look at the last couple of weeks. One day Boise temperatures are in the 80s. The next day we're in the 50s," said Colby. "I promise you, as soon as the weather gets hot, it will be wall-to-wall people."

Colby would be happy to see what Breidenbach saw at the Boise weather office.

"I know it's pretty hard to forget that harsh winter we just had but, soon enough, we'll be in the 90s," Breidenbach said.

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