Arkansas Wildlife Blog and Gallery
Buffalo National River and NW Arkansas
Rock Doesn't Absorb Water
Buffalo National River during very rainy weather can have sudden and violent flash floods. This is a hazard that needs to be pointed out to folks who are not from around here. I do realize this is just not true to the same degree in other states in most cases. Think of this place as a big rock bowl pouring into the Buffalo National River.
The reason why this happens is that the whole region is rock, and has very little top soil. Relatively little water is absorbed by the ground and the rest runs off. The good news for photographers is that there are runoffs and seasonal falls all over the place. It is one of the most dramatic visual assets of the Buffalo National River and surrounding area. When these are really going, this is the when you might experience a flash flood.
Camping along the river, at river level, is very popular. Many people, including local people, will find a gravel bar and pitch a tent almost in the river. Most of the time this is just fine, but in rainy weather it is risky. The drainage into the Buffalo River is pretty large, so even if there has been relatively little rain locally, in rainy weather a surge of water could come from up river and the risk might not be obvious.
It seems like the last couple of years when we have rain it comes down in torrents quite often. Not sure what this shift is about, but when you get over an inch of rain in an hour, that is a prescription for flash floods, especially if the ground is already soaked. We have had an unusual amount of rain this year in August. It seems like the weather is less predictable.
I met a guy yesterday along the ORT, (Old River Trail), and in our conversation he eventually told me about the loss of his brother to one of these flash floods. He brother didn't know it was coming, and a wall of water blew his truck over on top of him and his family and broke his back. This is a local person, and it was probably a fluke. But it makes no difference, it wasn't expected, that is the point. Flash floods are unpredictable, and the force could be fatal.
One common sense way you can gauge the risk is to observe how the seasonal creeks, waterfalls, and runoffs are running. If they are really flowing hard, the water table is up. This high water table sets the stage for flash floods, all that is required is a hard or long rain. I hear about people having their tent swept away now and then. Sometimes it's worse.
Buffalo National River Levels & Flash Floods
Rock shelves like this are very common in the Buffalo National River. They are often covered with moss, and they are like ice. They are nearly impossible to walk on safely, unless you have felt bottomed, studded wading shoes or sandals. Frankly, I steer clear of them totally if I can.
Buffalo River Level Links Courtesy of USGS
Here are the links for the latest Buffalo River water levels from the USGS Water Levels:
Boxley (South end of Boxley Valley)
Ponca (North end of Boxley Valley)
Pruit (Pruit ranger station at Highway 7)
St. Joe (Middle river area down highway 65 west of Tyler Bend access)
Harriet (Lower river area, near Buffalo Point access)
Just another note, and rant. The USGS has not seen fit to link its measurement system closely with the Buffalo National River Park checkpoints, where people might actually be in harms way. Typical governmental tower of babble. The above attempts to decode this for regular people. (C'mon guys, get it right.)
The USGS Water Level listings are under the White River Basin, just to make things convenient and understandable to people who know nothing about this place. If you dig around in there you will find information about many of the other waterways and their levels.