DEATH VALLEY, CA – Rain this weekend was a historic event, with nearly a year’s worth of rain falling in three hours. The 1.46 inches of rain recorded at Furnace Creek is still preliminary data, and mere drops away from the all-time record of 1.47 inches. The rain caused widespread damage and closure of all park roads.
“The heavy rain that caused the devastating flooding at Death Valley was an extremely rare, 1000-year event, says Daniel Berc, meteorologist with the National Weather Service Las Vegas. “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.”
Major impacts include the loss of a critical portion of the Cow Creek water system that serves some park residences as well as park facilities including the Emergency Operations Building and maintenance yard. Over 600 feet of the water main was blown out by flash floods, causing catastrophic damage to this system.
Additionally, many miles of roadway are known to have moderate to severe asphalt damage with hundreds of miles of roadways impacted by debris. 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.
California Department of Transportation expects to reopen portions of Highway 190 by Tuesday, allowing for travel between Pahrump, NV and the park’s residential and administrative area at Cow Creek. This will include access to the park’s visitor center at Furnace Creek, as well as the private hotels at Furnace Creek. Park roads are expected to remain closed for days to months depending on the severity of damage.
To date, there are no reported injuries from visitors or park residents, and people who were previously sheltering in place have been able to carefully travel out through the damaged roadways. No park roads are currently open to recreational travel due to ongoing safety concerns and active road work.
“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!”
Death Valley National Park is the homeland of the Timbisha Shoshone and preserves natural resources, cultural resources, exceptional wilderness, scenery, and learning experiences within the nation’s largest conserved desert landscape and some of the most extreme climate and topographic conditions on the planet. Learn more at www.nps.gov/deva.