The past two months have been turbulent at Death Valley National Park.
The first monsoonal rain fell on the park in early August, leading to significant flooding that damaged roads and caused numerous road closures. Then, more heavy rain, which was a “1,000-year storm,” and subsequent flash flooding caused millions of dollars in damage to Death Valley’s roads and facilities.
Since then, some of the park’s roads and its most-popular attractions have reopened. Now, however, after yet another round of monsoonal storms on September 13, the resulting flooding caused more extensive damage to roads in Death Valley.
Consequently, most paved roads into Death Valley are now closed and the only route into the park is from the east, via Death Valley Junction and California Highway 190 (CA-190). That means 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 Death Valley. The California Department of Transportation has not released an estimated timeline for reopening the road.
Meanwhile, the National Park Service is focused on repairing Badwater Road. Sections of that road have debris piled up to three feet high while the road’s shoulders have eroded — leaving dangerous drop-offs. Park management currently anticipates 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 a statement. “There aren’t any more storms in the forecast. Hopefully, we can make real progress getting more of the park open soon.”
Why Flooding Occurs In Death Valley
Death Valley National Park, which is a 2-hour drive from Las Vegas, is the hottest, driest, and lowest national park in the U.S. In the summer months of May to September, temperatures average over 100 degrees — and often exceed 120 degrees. What’s more, the official highest recorded temperature in the world was 134 degrees in Death Valley on July 10, 1913.
Flash flooding from Southwest monsoon rains every August is a natural part of Death Valley’s ecology. Here’s why the flooding occurs: there is little soil to soak up water, so measurable rain can lead to flooding in low-lying areas. On the other hand, water from heavy rains makes its way into normally dry creeks, triggering flash floods.
For example, downpours from monsoonal thunderstorms in Death Valley last month triggered flooding that damaged numerous roads and park facilities.
Then, a few days later, on August 5, in what was called a “1,000-year-storm,” the National Weather Service initially reported 1.46 inches of rain fell at Furnace Creek in Death Valley in just 3 hours. That measurement was recorded by an automated gauge.
However, two rain gauges at the Furnace Creek weather station tell a different story. The National Weather Service now recognizes a record-setting 1.70 inches of rain, which was recorded by park rangers, as the more-accurate rainfall total, the National Park Service reports.
Amazingly, 1.70 inches of rain is three-quarters of Death Valley’s 2.20-inch average annual rainfall amount.
“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.”
Know Before You Go
Many park roads at Death Valley are now closed, and, consequently, many attractions at the park are also closed. For example, while the Furnace Creek Visitor Center and Campground are open, the Mesquite Springs, Sunset, Texas Spring, and Stovepipe Wells campgrounds are closed.
You can find an updated list of roads, trails, and campgrounds that are closed at Death Valley here.
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