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Record Death Valley flooding ‘a once-in-1,000-year event’

Record Death Valley Flooding ‘A Once-In-1,000-Year Event’

Hundreds were marooned in the downpour as the climate crisis increases the likelihood of extreme weather.

Recent heavy rains in Death Valley that have thrown debris onto roads, damaged infrastructure and washed away cars have been described by meteorologists and park officials as a once-in-a-thousand-year event. The arid valley was pelted with roughly an inch and a half of rain on Friday, near the park’s rainfall record for a single day.

According to experts from NASA’s Earth Observatory, the storm dumped about 75% of the average annual total in just three hours. Park officials say hundreds of people visiting and working in Death Valley National Park have been cordoned off and all roads continue to be impassable.

The waters have receded, leaving behind thick layers of mud and gravel, but those who were stranded were able to exit the park earlier this week, aided by park service personnel.

Daniel Berc, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service Las Vegas, described the deluge as a historic “1,000-year event”, with a 0.1% likelihood during a given year.

Flood water is visible on the right in this pair of false-color Nasa images from 11 July and 7 August. Flood water appears dark blue; saturated soil is light blue; vegetation is bright green; and bare ground is brown. Photograph: Nasa Earth Observatory image by Lauren Dauphin, using Modis data from Nasa EOSDIS Lance and GIBS/Worldview

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.

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.

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