Major flooding is never convenient, but Yellowstone has really been hit hard as it geared up for a summer season full of 150th birthday events. Instead of the anticipated celebration, floodwaters have destroyed bridges and roads, carried away houses, threatened the drinking water supplies of nearby cities and forced 10,000 visitors to evacuate the park.
When will Yellowstone be back to normal? Probably never. The enormous floods may permanently alter the face of the country’s first national park.
It started with a relatively dry winter, followed by a cool, wet spring with snow still on the mountains. Last weekend, rain pelted down, melting about 5.5 inches of snowpack and swelling the Yellowstone River. And voila, flooding.
Climate modeling suggests that Yellowstone’s annual mean precipitation will increase in coming years, especially in springtime. “That increase in spring means that more of the precipitation is going to fall as rain instead of snow,” said paleontology professor Cathy Whitlock, who co-authored the 2021 Greater Yellowstone Climate Assessment, as reported by Jackson Hole News & Guide. “That’s going to lead to spring flooding.”
When will the park reopen? Not yet. All five of the park entrances will remain closed at least through the weekend. Park staff must wait for floodwaters to recede before they can begin to evaluate everything necessary for visitor safety—roads, bridges, structures, wastewater treatment facilities and other essential park infrastructure. Officials hope that they can reopen the southern half of Yellowstone, which includes Old Faithful geyser, some time next week. But the harder-hit northern half will remain closed longer. Unfortunately, many favorite attractions are in the northern part, such as Mammoth Hot Springs, Tower Fall and Lamar Valley, known for wildlife viewing. All of Yellowstone’s campgrounds, lodges and campsites are closed until further notice.
When the park reopens, some kind of timed-entry or reservation system will probably be necessary. “One thing that we definitely know is that half the park cannot support all of the visitation,” said Yellowstone Superintendent Cam Sholly, as reported by the AP. Last year, Yellowstone received more than four million visitors.
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