On Friday, August 5, Death Valley National Park, a vast desert and the hottest spot on the planet, famous for its parched, moonlike landscapes, experienced a once in a decade rainfall that led to flash flooding and washed out roads that closed the park completely, trapping about 500 visitors and 500 staff members in the park after the closures.
No major injuries were reported, though about 60 vehicles were damaged after 1.46 inches, measured at Furnace Creek, fell. The rainfall total is just below the previous daily record of 1.47 inches. The total represents nearly three-fourths of a year’s worth of rain for the park, which sees a yearly average precipitation of 2 inches.
The incident marks the second time flash flooding has hit the park in the same week. On Monday, flooding affected many roads, and a Facebook post from the park showed a vehicle buried up to its headlights in dirt and gravel.
“The flood waters pushed dumpster containers into parked cars, which caused cars to collide into one another,” the park representative said in a statement. “Additionally, many facilities are flooded, including hotel rooms and business offices.” Most of the vehicles damaged were in a parking lot.
Furnace Creek, where the principal flooding occurred, is the recreational and resort center of Death Valley. As of Friday evening, most of the visitors remained in the developed area of the park, with a few able to leave the park as crews managed to create makeshift roadways by moving mounds of gravel.
“All roads into and out of the park are currently closed and will remain closed until park staff can assess the extensiveness of the situation,” the park spokesperson said in a statement. The last time a closure of this size occurred in Death Valley was in August 2004, when a rainstorm caused flash flooding, said Abby Wines, Death Valley’s public information officer. At that time, the park did not open for 10 days.
Friday’s flooding comes a week after monsoonal downpours sent water cascading into another famously arid region, the Las Vegas Strip, inundating casino floors and downing numerous trees. The floodwaters in Vegas were accompanied by wind gusts of up to 70 mph.
These two infrequent weather events have led to some public debate between those who believe in climate change and those who claim that it’s a normal part of a geological cycle. The denialists, along with the guidance from the Bureau of Land Management, point out that, “Flash floods can happen at any time after heavy rainfall…Flash flood conditions in desert landscapes may happen when heavy rainfall is not soaked into the desert sands”. One of the denialists of what is called anthropogenic weather change, wrote, “Mankind didn’t cause these environmental changes any more than the forming of the Hawaiian Islands”.
Others believe that the recent rain events in Death Valley and Las Vegas sound the alarm that signal an irreversible catastrophic change in climate due to human activity and point to the many dangerous climate events happening around the globe as proof: “Wildfires all over the planet. Severe droughts in Africa, the mid-East, India. Historic floods elsewhere. The poles are melting.” All this, they say, is caused by greenhouse emissions produced by human activity.
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