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Flash flooding closes roads; visitors and staff sheltered in place
Death Valley, CA–Heavy rains late last night caused significant flooding in Death Valley National Park, closing roads and trapping visitors at the north end of the park. Park rangers evacuated campers from Mesquite Campground sometime after 10:00 pm. About twenty visitors and several park rangers spent the night near Ubehebe Crater. The group was in radio contact with park headquarters overnight and all are safe. National Park Service (NPS) staff are currently escorting those visitors out after NPS road crews were able to clear a partial route.
Last night's storm dropped heavy rain in the Scotty's Castle area. The flash flood knocked down four power lines, damaged the road and deposited approximately two feet of mud and debris inside Scotty's Castle visitor center. Scotty's Castle visitor center is a historic structure, the original Garage. No impact has been reported yet at other historic structures in the Death Valley Scotty National Historic District, including Scotty's Castle itself. Scotty's Castle visitor center and tours are closed, and may remain so for at least several days.
Although California 190 is open, most other roads in Death Valley National Park are closed.
"Rains over the last two weeks have damaged many roads in the park," said Superintendent Mike Reynolds. "Visitors should use caution and understand that many areas will be inaccessible for several days." Rangers are currently checking all roadways to assess conditions and make sure that all visitors are safe. California Highway Patrol will fly over the area check remote areas.
CA-190 is open. Most other roads within Death Valley National Park are closed due to flash flood damage, including: Badwater Road/Highway 178 and Scotty's Castle Road/North Highway. Most unpaved roads are also closed, including West Side Road, Big Pine-Death Valley Road, and Racetrack Road.
A series of storms have hit the Death Valley region in the last few weeks. According to the National Weather Service, the annual average precipitation at the weather station at Furnace Creek in Death Valley National Park is 2.36 inches. The average precipitation for the month of October is 0.07 inches. Furnace Creek received 1.23 inches of precipitation so far in October 2015. These recent storms have not hit all parts of the park equally, and other parts of the park may have received more rainfall than the weather station at Furnace Creek recorded.
The National Weather Station does not attribute these storms to El Nino weather patterns. These storms have come from the north, which is not part of El Nino patterns. However, Death Valley National Park anticipates more storms than normal in the next few months due to El Nino. If that happens, the wildflower display is likely to be better than average, with peak displays from mid-February through mid-April.
Park employees have been working overtime the past few weeks to clear flood debris and repair damage on Badwater Road, West Side Road, and Scotty's Castle Road. CalTrans has worked diligently to clear California Highway 190 in response to each storm.