LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — How rare was the heavy weekend rain at Death Valley National Park?
Let Daniel Berc, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Las Vegas explain: “The heavy rain that caused the devastating flooding at Death Valley was an extremely rare 1,000-year event,” Berc said Sunday in a news release from the National Park Service. “A 1,000-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.”
Nearly a year’s worth of rain fell in three hours, flooding roads, parking lots and buildings in the park on the California-Nevada border. The 1.46 inches at Furnace Creek is still preliminary data, and mere drops away from the all-time record of 1.47 inches.
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 system damage, according to the news release.
Several miles of roadway have moderate to severe asphalt damage with hundreds of miles battered by debris.
Conditions are still being assessed, but some damage makes makes access by vehicles to several areas impossible, the agency said.
Aerial surveys Saturday by a Naval Weapons Station China Lake helicopter crew found several vehicles in remote areas of the park. Rangers were able to contact these visitors and ensure that everyone was OK, the agency said.
California Department of Transportation expects to reopen portions of Highway 190 by Tuesday, allowing for travel between Pahrump, Nevada, 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.
No injuries to visitors or park residents have been reported, the agency said, 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 because of 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!”