It’s safe to say Death Valley National Park has had some wild weather. In August, the park had monsoon-like flooding, which led to historic flooding that damaged roads and caused road closures. Afterward, more torrential rain came, which was later dubbed a “1,000-year storm.” Then, flash flooding caused extensive damage to the park’s roads and facilities. In addition, waterfalls even began popping up in the park. Now, park visitors can access only one park entrance due to the highly odd weather.
Currently, most paved roads that lead into Death Valley are now closed, and the only route into the park is from the east by way of the Death Valley Junction and California Highway 190 (CA-190).
As a result, visitors can only drive to Dantes View, Zabriskie Point, The Oasis at Death Valley, Furnace Creek Visitor Center and Campground, Harmony Borax Works, Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, and Stovepipe Wells.
The west entrance to Death Valley is closed due to extensive damage to CA-190 west of the park. In addition, the California Department of Transportation has not yet released an estimated timeline for reopening the road.
At the same time, the National Park Service is devoting its efforts to repairing Badwater Road. Parts of that road have debris piled up to three feet high while the shoulders of the roads have eroded. As a result, dangerous drop-offs have formed.
Park officials anticipate hopefully opening the road from CA-190 to Badwater Basin by September 24.
“It’s been an exciting few weeks of rain, record-setting heat, and even a hurricane remnant!” Mike Reynolds, Death Valley’s superintendent, said in an official statement. “There aren’t any more storms in the forecast. Hopefully, we can make real progress getting more of the park open soon.”
Death Valley is the country’s hottest, most arid, and lowest national park. During the summer, scorching temperatures average well over 100 degrees — and have been recorded to go over 120 degrees.
In addition, the official highest recorded temperature in the world was 134 degrees in Death Valley on July 10, 1913.
Understanding flooding in Death Valley National Park
However, flash flooding from monsoon rains every summer is a natural part of Death Valley’s ecosystem. So if you’re scratching your head here, we’ll try and break it down. Typically in August, there is little soil to soak up water, so measurable rain can lead to flooding in low-lying areas. In contrast, heavy rainwater enters dry creeks, setting off flash floods.
The National Weather Service recently recorded 1.70 inches of rain as the more accurate rainfall total in Death Valley this year. Interestingly, 1.70 inches of rain is three-quarters of Death Valley’s 2.20-inch average annual rainfall.
“The heavy rain that caused the devastating flooding at Death Valley was an extremely rare, 1,000-year event,” Daniel Berc, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service Las Vegas, said, according to the National Park Service. “A 1,000-year event doesn’t mean it happens once per 1,000 years. It means there is a 0.1 percent chance of it occurring in any given year.”