Rare Flash Flooding In Death Valley

By Nicole Bonaccorso | the Weather Channel

Flood damage and floodwaters are seen at Mud Canyon Road in Death Valley National Park after flash floods hit the area on Friday, Aug. 5, 2022. (NPS)

At a Glance

  • A record amount of rain caused flash flooding at Death Valley National Park.
  • All roads remain closed within the park.
  • Death Valley is the hottest place on Earth and the driest place in North America.
  • Photos show the damage left behind after the flood.

Record-breaking rains caused flash flooding in California’s Death Valley National Park on Friday, trapping about 1,000 guests and damaging roads.

Rocks and mud caked roads in and out of the park and rescue crews needed to clear a path to free stranded visitors. Officials said roads may remain closed for days to months, and the National Park Service (NPS) website listed all Death Valley National Park roads closed as of Monday morning. The Associated Press reported that it could take days to fully assess the damage to the park, which is more than 5,000 square miles and includes more than 1,000 miles of roads.

Navy helicopter surveys located several stranded vehicles in remove areas of the park over the weekend, and rangers were able to contact the vehicle owners and assure everyone was accounted for, the NPS reported. No injuries were reported.

The storm occurred just days after major flooding earlier in the week, which also closed and damaged roads.

Death Valley is the hottest place on earth and the driest place in North America. While flooding is not unheard of in the region, Friday’s damaging rainfall was the most ever recorded in a single day for the month of August.

“Friday’s flooding was actually the second time it happened there last week. Heavy rains last Sunday also triggered flooding in the park,” weather.com Senior Digital Meteorologist Chris Dolce explained. “That said, Friday’s rain was 1.46 inches, making it the second wettest calendar day on record for any time of year, so, a pretty rare rainfall event for them. It was just 0.01 inches away from tying the all-time wettest day record.”

Dolce said that the area sees occasional summer flooding, but Friday’s flooding was notable. The rainfall total was about 65% of what the area typically sees in an entire year.

“The heavy rain that caused the devastating flooding at Death Valley was an extremely rare, 1,000-year event,” Daniel Berc, meteorologist with the National Weather Service Las Vegas, said, according to a news release published by the NPS on Sunday. “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.”

The only single day with more rainfall since 1936 occured on April 15, 1988, with 1.47 inches recorded.

The rain flooded a nearby hotel, destroyed a critical portion of the Cow Creek water system that serves some park residences and caused major damage to the park Emergency Operations Building and maintenance yard, in addition to other park facilities. The NPS reported that more than 600 feet of the water main was destroyed by flash floods, causing “catastrophic damage” to the water system.

Miles of the park’s roads sustained moderate to severe damage, while hundreds of miles of roads are impacted by debris.

Most of the water has since receded, but photos show the damage and debris left behind after the flood. The AP reported about 60 vehicles were partially buried by mud, gravel and debris.

Click through the slideshow above to see images of Death Valley after the flood.

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