Death Valley National Park Closed To Tourists After Unprecedented Flash Flooding

by Amy Myers

While Yosemite National Park continues to battle and manage fires in the area, Death Valley is facing the opposite problem – flash flooding.

This past weekend, the national park saw a historic amount of rainfall. In just three hours, the area saw a year’s worth of precipitation. In fact, preliminary data at Furnace Creek revealed that there were 1.46 inches of rain, just 0.01 inches short of the all-time record. As a result, Death Valley has had to implement closures of all park roads as the flood continues to wreak havoc on the landscape.

In response to the event, Daniel Berc, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service Las Vegas, clarified that even though the rainfall is a 1,000-year event, that doesn’t mean we can expect one in 3022.

“The heavy rain that caused the devastating flooding at Death Valley was an extremely rare, 1000-year event,” Berc said. “A 1000-year event doesn’t mean it happens once per 1000 years, rather that there is a 0.1% chance of occurring in any given year.” 

Still, the precipitation is pretty remarkable. In fact, park superintendent Mike Reynolds stated that the historic weather event is just an example of how difficult of an environment Death Valley National Park is.

“It is the hottest place in the world, and the driest place in North America. This week’s 1,000 year flood is another example of this extreme environment. With climate change models predicting more frequent and more intense storms, this is a place where you can see climate change in action!” 

Death Valley National Park Shuts Down ‘Hundreds of Miles of Roadways’

Among the damage that Death Valley National Park has experienced from the flash floods, the most critical is the loss of a critical portion of the Cow Creek water system. This water source serves some park residences as well as park facilities, including the maintenance yard and Emergency Operations Building. Unfortunately, the national park has lost more than 600 feet of the water main.

“Additionally, many miles of roadway are known to have moderate to severe asphalt damage with hundreds of miles of roadways impacted by debris,” the park’s release added. “Road conditions are still being assessed, as damage makes access to some areas impossible by vehicle. Yesterday’s aerial surveys by a Naval Weapons Station China Lake helicopter crew were able to do a thorough search and located several vehicles in remote areas of the park. Rangers were able to contact these visitors and ensure that everyone was ok.”

John Sirlin, a visitor at the national park this past weekend, recalled the moment when the floods took over the landscape.

“It sounded like the world was ending,” Sirlin told Good Morning America. “And then just this rushing water everywhere in a place that’s usually absolutely bone dry — it was pretty incredible.”