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A year’s worth of rain dropped at Death Valley in one day — and photos show the damage

by nytime
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“The remnants of Hurricane Hilary” brought 2.2 inches of rainfall in one day to Death Valley.

Though this may not seem like a large amount, it was the park’s “rainiest day ever” and more than it usually gets in a whole year, the National Park Service said in an Aug. 23 news release.

And with such a historic day of rainfall came destruction.

The park suffered major flood damage, leading to the its closure, according to rangers.

A ranger surveys the damage done by flooding caused by the “remnants of Hurricane Hilary.”

A ranger surveys the damage done by flooding caused by the “remnants of Hurricane Hilary.”

“We have more than 34 acres assessed, but the fact is, with more than 3.4 million acres to manage, Death Valley is a very large park and this is going to take some time,” the park wrote in an Aug. 24 Instagram post.

Floodwater rushes across California 190 near Zabriskie Point in Death Valley.

Floodwater rushes across California 190 near Zabriskie Point in Death Valley.

A new record

The park sees an average rainfall of 2.15 inches annually, rangers said.

On Aug. 20, however, rangers said the park saw 2.2 inches of rain, breaking the park’s previous record day of rainfall of 1.7 inches in August 2022, according to rangers.

Some parts of the park may have even seen about 5 inches of rain that day, rangers said.

A truck works to clear rocks, mud and floodwater from CA 190.

A truck works to clear rocks, mud and floodwater from CA 190.

What to know about flash floods

Flash floods happen when “rainfall exceeds the land’s ability to absorb water,” rangers said.

In Death Valley National Park, rangers said “even small amounts of rain can cause dangerous flash floods.”

Pockets of water sit in low spots in the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes after floods in Death Valley.

Pockets of water sit in low spots in the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes after floods in Death Valley.

“Picture the mountains in Death Valley as being a steep building roof,” park ranger Abby Wines said in the release. “Just like a roof, the rocky slopes don’t absorb much water. The canyons function like a rain spout, channeling that runoff. However, in Death Valley that runoff is a fast-moving muddy soup carrying rocks.”

Extent of damage unknown

All the paved and unpaved roads throughout the park were damaged, rangers said.

Flooding undercut the road, causing pavement loss.

Flooding undercut the road, causing pavement loss.

In addition to the road damage, the debris brought by flash flooding also undermined four utility systems.

“The full extent of the damage across the park will not be known for a period of weeks,” rangers said.

Park rangers closed Badwater Road in anticipation of flooding from Hurricane Hilary in Death Valley.

Park rangers closed Badwater Road in anticipation of flooding from Hurricane Hilary in Death Valley.

Reopening in stages

Though there is no set reopening date for the park, rangers said they expect it will reopen in stages during the coming weeks.

It could take months to fully reopen, according to rangers.

Mud and undercutting along one of Death Valley’s most popular overlook trails.

Mud and undercutting along one of Death Valley’s most popular overlook trails.

“We ask the public for patience and to honor the closures so we can do the work needed to get Death Valley open as quickly as possible and safe for everyone to visit,” Superintendent Mike Reynolds said in the release.

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