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Home » Historic flooding in Death Valley, Is it Climate Change?

Historic flooding in Death Valley, Is it Climate Change?

Historic flooding in Death Valley, Is it Climate Change?

Known as the hottest and driest place in the US, Death Valley is a depression in southeastern California located 85.5 meters below sea level and has recorded record temperatures in its history of up to 56.7 degrees, being one of the driest places in the world.

However, these days it has experienced the opposite phenomenon and has suffered heavy rains. The most intense episode was a strong storm that unloaded on August 5 37 litres of rain per square meter in just three hours, the equivalent of 75% of all the rain that falls each year in this arid area that has an average rainfall of 57 litres by year.

Hundreds of people visiting Death Valley and workers at the national park and its tourist facilities were trapped when rain made roads impassable. The flood submerged about 60 parked cars in mud and debris. The authorities closed the entrance and exit roads of the park and offered help to leave the area to some 1,000 people, who were able to leave in a few hours.

During the storm, “flooding pushed dumpsters into parked cars, causing cars to crash into each other. In addition, many facilities are flooded, including hotel rooms and business offices,” explains a statement from the national park.

California Highway Patrol and Army air assets conducted aerial searches to confirm no vehicles or people were trapped in remote areas of the park.

Fortunately, there were no personal mishaps, but the incident has sparked a conversation about the effects of global warming and how it accentuates the virulence of weather events.

“The heavy rain that caused the devastating flooding in Death Valley was an extremely rare 1,000-year event,” Daniel Berc, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Las Vegas, said in a report provided by the US National Park Service. USA

“A 1,000-year event does not mean that it happens once every 1,000 years exactly,” but rather that there is a 0.1% chance that it will happen in a given year,” says Berc.

“Death Valley is an incredible place of extremes,” said park director 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 intense storms, this is a place to see climate change in action,” he adds.

The August 5 storm dumped 37.1 litres of rain per square meter. It is not really the rain record for its entire history, since measurements began to be taken in 1936 there is evidence of a somewhat higher episode: the 37.3 litres per square meter that fell on April 15, 1988. However, this happened in spring, which is when the usual weather washes away what little rain Death Valley receives during the year. However, this time it happened in August, something unusual, since the average annual rainfall throughout this month is 2.4 litres.

According to those responsible for the protected space, the main impacts of the storm include the loss of a critical part of the Cow Creek water system that supplies some residences in the park, as well as the facilities of the protected space, including the operations building. emergency and garden maintenance. More than 200 meters of the main water supply pipe were swept away by flash floods, “causing catastrophic damage to this system,” the park notes.

In the days after the big storm, authorities have been assessing the damage and trying to reopen some areas, something that will take time. “Many kilometres of road have moderate to severe asphalt damage and there are also hundreds of kilometres of roads and trails littered with debris,” says the park director. “The state of the roads is still being evaluated since the damage makes it impossible for vehicles to access some areas,” added the directors.

Death Valley

Death Valley is located in southeastern California, in the Mojave Desert, east of the Sierra Nevada. It is precisely this situation that causes its aridity. The imposing mountains, more than 4,000 meters high, capture the moisture-laden winds coming from the Pacific, keeping all the precipitation.

In this way, while the western slopes are loaded with vegetation, the eastern side of the Sierra barely receives rain throughout the year, no more than 57 litres per square meter, when the desert climate is considered to be that of those places that do not exceed the 300 litres.

Its orography and geographical location also contribute to making Death Valley extremely hot. It is a depression, with an altitude of 85.5 meters below sea level and surrounded by high mountains on all sides.

The sun’s rays heat the valley, this hot air rises and is trapped by the surrounding mountain ranges. It cools and falls back into the valley, where it is compressed and heated by the pressure of the air found at such low elevations: a veritable pot of burning atmosphere.

This has led to Death Valley holding the record for the highest air temperature ever measured on the entire planet. On July 10, 1913, the Furnace Creek observatory measured 56.7 degrees Celsius, a record that still remains the highest record, as some slightly higher measurements made later in other parts of the world have not been homologated.

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