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Flash Flooding in Death Valley Closes Roads

Officials suggest the flooding was caused by thunderstorms in the Death Valley mountains on Sunday.

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Death Valley is one of the driest places in North America.
Death Valley is one of the driest places in North America.
Image: GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP (Getty Images)

Death Valley was not immune to thunderstorms over the weekend, and some roads in and out of the national park have been deemed unsafe after being inundated with flood water. The damage in California follows intense rainfall and flooding that hit parts of Nevada and Arizona last week.

Death Valley is widely regarded as one of the driest places in North America, but the park experienced some notable flooding this past weekend after a series of thunderstorms dumped rain across the desert. This rainfall resulted in a flooding event that washed out roads in and out of Death Valley National Park. Dan Berc, a meteorologist from the National Weather Service’s Las Vegas office, explained to Gizmodo on a phone call that the rainfall and subsequent flooding likely peaked on Sunday, with some smaller episodes yesterday.

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Berc says that the American Southwest is currently experiencing monsoon season, during which southerly winds carry moisture from the Gulf of California to the southwest United States. This moisture then helps facilitate the creation of thunderstorms across the desert. Monsoon season typically begins in mid-June and lasts until September, but Berc says that California and the Las Vegas area aren’t usually impacted until mid-July.

Las Vegas experienced massive flooding late last week due to monsoon season thunderstorms, and Berc says that Death Valley lacks the flood control that Las Vegas has built into the city’s infrastructure. The rain over the weekend occurred at high elevations and since Death Valley is a valley after all, the water flowed through natural channels in the park’s geography which happen to intersect with some of Death Valley’s roadways.

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The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change revealed in a 2021 report that heavy rain events will become 30% more frequent across the globe, and contain an average of 7% more water. As our warming atmosphere holds on to more moisture, drier areas like Death Valley may not be fully prepared for the oncoming increase in rainfall and flooding.