A historic rain drenched Death Valley National Park in early August with a year’s worth of rain falling in just three hours, causing widespread flood damage and a closure of all park roads. The 1.46 inches of rain recorded at Furnace Creek was still preliminary data, the National Park Service reported, and mere drops away from the all-time record of 1.47 inches.
“The heavy rain that caused the devastating flooding at Death Valley was an extremely rare, 1,000-year event,” said Daniel Berc, meteorologist with the National Weather Service Las Vegas. “A 1,000-year event doesn’t mean it happens once per 1,000 years, rather that there is a 0.1% chance of occurring in any given year.”
Many miles of roadway in the park were found to have moderate to severe asphalt damage and hundreds of miles of roadways were impacted by debris. Damage made some areas impossible by vehicle.
During an aerial survey by a Naval Weapons Station China Lake helicopter crew, several vehicles were located in remote areas of the park. Rangers were able to contact the visitors to ensure they were safe.
State Route 190 was the first to reopen, to the western portion of Death Valley, but recreational travel remained initially closed to assess and begin fixing the damage.
“Death Valley is an incredible place of extremes,” said park superintendent Mike Reynolds. “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.”
Reynolds had also urged visitors to stay off dirt roads, “even if apps are directing them there.” He added: “While we are working with various map platforms to report these issues, please be smarter than your smartphone.”