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Death Valley soaked by record flooding, stranding about 1,000 in the park

Written by Javed Iqbal

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Death Valley National Park was closed Saturday after unusual amounts of rain drenched the park Friday, triggering flash floods that left about 1,000 visitors and park staff stranded.

The park received 1.46 inches of precipitation in the Furnace Creek area – just shy of the previous calendar day record of 1.47 inches, set on April 15, 1988. This is about three-quarters of what the area typically receives in a average year1.94 inches, and is the largest amount ever recorded in August. The lowest, driest, and hottest location in the United States, Death Valley averages just 0.11 inches of rain in August.

As of Saturday morning, “everything is going well,” said Nikki Jones, a server assistant at a restaurant at the park’s Ranch Inn, who also lives there and posted a video of the flood from her colleague on Twitter. Jones told The Washington Post that the floodwaters receded Friday afternoon, but light debris remains on the roads.

“CalTrans has done a great job getting this cleaned up as quickly as possible,” she told The Post in a Twitter message. “I drove on the roads today.”

Jones said some people are stranded at the Inn at the Oasis because of stuck cars, “but people are able to get out of the park today.”

“Flood waters pushed containers into parked cars, causing cars to crash into each other,” the National Park Service said in a statement Friday. “In addition, many facilities are flooded, including hotel rooms and business offices.

The NPS did not immediately respond to The Washington Post’s request for an update Saturday morning.

The flow was triggered by the southwest monsoon, which develops each summer as the prevailing winds shift from west to south, pulling a wave of moisture northward. This moisture can fuel heavy downpours that flood the parched desert landscape. Because there is little soil to soak up the rain, any measurable rain can cause flooding in low-lying areas, and heavier rains can collect in normally dry creeks and trigger flash floods.

This year’s southwest monsoon has been particularly intense – helping to alleviate drought conditions in the region, but also resulting in many significant floods. Severe flooding has recently affected areas around Las Vegas and Phoenix.

Las Vegas floods send water rushing through casinos

The Death Valley flooding also comes amid a series of extreme rain events across the lower 48 states. During the week spanning late July and early August, three 1-in-1,000-year rain events occurred—flooding St. Louis, Eastern Kentuckyand southeastern Illinois. Earlier in the summer Yellowstone National Park also flooded.

How two 1-in-1,000 year rain events hit the US in two days

Death Valley holds the record for the highest temperature ever recorded on Earth, as well as several runners-up. Officially, Death Valley reached 134 degrees on July 10, 1913, but some climatologists have questioned the legitimacy of that reading. The second highest temperature ever recorded, 131 degrees from Kebili, Tunisia, set on July 7, 1931, is also controversial. Last summer and the summer before, Death Valley hit 130 degrees, which may be it highest pair of reliably measured temperatures on Earth if the 1931 Tunisia and 1913 Death Valley readings are disregarded.

Death Valley rises to 130 degrees, which is equivalent to the Earth’s highest temperature in at least 90 years

The rain flooded the park and trapped vehicles in debris, according to a video tweeted by John Sirlin, an Arizona-based storm chaser. He wrote that roads were blocked by boulders and fallen palm trees and that visitors struggled for six hours to leave the park.

Earlier this week, flooding hit parts of western Nevada, forcing the closure of some roads leading to the park from Las Vegas. Flooding also hit parts of northern Arizona.

Flooding closes roads into Death Valley National Park

Sirlin told the Associated Press that Friday’s rain began around 2 a.m. and was “more extreme than anything I’ve seen there.”

“There were at least two dozen cars that were smashed and stuck in there,” he said, adding that he saw washes floating several feet deep, though he saw no injuries, and the NPS reported no injuries as of Friday.

Last July, rare summer rain also drenched Death Valley, bringing 0.74 inches in one day at Furnace Creek about two weeks after the park set the world record for hottest daily average temperature at 118.1 degrees Fahrenheit.

Desert rain: Rare summer rain drenched Death Valley and parts of California on Monday

Scientists say human-induced climate warming is intensifying extreme rainfall events. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found some evidence that rainfall from the southwest monsoon has increased since the 1970s.

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Javed Iqbal

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