Yellowstone's Flooding Sparks New Perspective on Preparedness

Yellowstone's Flooding Sparks New Perspective on Preparedness

As climate change intensifies extreme weather events around the world, America’s national parks aren’t immune. During a recent thousand-year flash flood, Yellowstone National Park was forced to evacuate 10,000 visitors and lost critical roads, bridges, electricity lines, and sewage lines.

No one was injured or killed in the disaster, but the National Guard had to rescue 87 people left stranded in the flood zone, and multiple homes collapsed into the river. Park officials also believe that human sewage leaked into the Yellowstone River, which could jeopardize the spawning season for the river’s native trout. The park’s North entrance, near the town of Gardiner, Montana, is currently closed and unlikely to reopen this year.

TODAY: Yellowstone National Park Closed ‘Indefinitely’ Following Flooding, June 15, 2022.

TODAY: Extreme Flooding Threatens To Forever Alter Scenery Of Yellowstone, June 16, 2022.

Why This Matters

Scientists anticipate that Yellowstone will increasingly see climate consequences already experienced by the rest of the Western US, such as flash floods on vulnerable land due to prolonged drought. More frequent flooding and wildfires on protected lands have exposed a lack of preparedness for climate disasters. Near Yellowstone in Montana, Red Lodge Fire Chief Tom Kuntz told CBS: "A year ago we were on fire. A year later, we're wet. We have the highest stream flows the area has ever seen.”

CBS: Floods that devastated Yellowstone now impacting Montana, water supplies threatened, June 16, 2022.

CNN: US plagued by extreme weather with heat, floods and fire, June 14, 2022.

Preventing Future Flooding

Though scientists predict changes to Yellowstone’s climate that includes more rainfall in spring and less snow in winter, the degree of recent flooding was historically unprecedented and relatively unanticipated. The amount of water that devastated the park over just three days came from a combination of snowmelt and sudden precipitation. CNN reported that it was equivalent to two to three months of summer precipitation.

Parks like Yellowstone must prioritize disaster preparedness to prevent the worst consequences during future disasters. "The fact that we're losing these roads, and there's these massive landslides and houses are washing away clearly means that we’re not thinking enough about the impacts of climate change in our land use and in our infrastructure development," said Cathy Whitlock, a Montana State University professor. “And we need to do a better job of that. Because that's the cost and that's the tragedy.”

Guardian: Climate change is making floods worse | Here's how, October 19, 2022.

Meanwhile In China

As experts continue to warn extreme weather will only get worse, China’s province of Guangdong experienced its heaviest rains in 60 years. As of Tuesday morning, flooding and landslides in the province had impacted nearly 500,000 people and caused over $250 million in damages.

China Observer: Dam Collapsed, Once-In-A-Century Floods & Tornado Hit Guangzhou | South China Flood | Pearl River, Jun 19, 2022.

DW: 'Unprecedented' flooding in India, Bangladesh leaves millions homeless, June 19, 2022.

ABC: Rainfall from climate change could affect economic growth | Study, January 12, 2022.

Disaster Management: Floods Explained, November 15, 2013.