Historic Floods Force Yellowstone National Park to Get Visitors Out, Gates Close

More than 10,000 visitors were ordered from Yellowstone when unprecedented flooding ripped through the northern half of the country’s oldest national park, washing away bridges and roads and sweeping a workers’ bunkerhouse miles downriver, officials said Tuesday. Remarkably, no one was injured or killed.

The only visitors left in the huge park that spans three states were a dozen campers still heading out of the backcountry.

The park, which is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year, could be closed for a week, and the northern entrances may not reopen this summer, Chief Superintendent Cam Sholly said.

“The water is still raging,” said Sholly, who said more wet weather was forecast this weekend, which could cause additional flooding.

The floods reached historic levels in the Yellowstone River after days of rain and rapid snowmelt and devastated parts of southern Montana and northern Wyoming, washing out cabins, inundating small towns, turning off power and flooding homes. It hit the park just as a summer tourist season that draws millions of visitors was getting underway.

This National Park Service aerial image shows Yellowstone National Park’s North Entrance Road flooded in Gardiner, Mont., Tuesday. More than 10,000 visitors were evacuated from the park because of the raging water. (Doug Kraus/National Park Service/The Associated Press)

‘The scariest river ever’

Rather than marvel at the site of grizzly bears and bison, lapping thermal pools, and the regular blasts of Old Faithful’s geyser, tourists found themselves witnessing nature’s most unpredictable as the Yellowstone River climbed into a chocolate-brown stream that washed away everything in its path.

“It’s just the scariest river ever,” Kate Gomez of Santa Fe, NM, said Tuesday. “Everything that falls into that river is gone.”

While no deaths or injuries were reported, the water did not begin to recede until Tuesday and the full extent of the destruction was not yet known.

Flooding caused by heavy rain over the weekend caused damage to roads and bridges in Yellowstone National Park, forcing park officials to close all entrances until at least Wednesday. (Doug Kraus/National Park Service/The Associated Press)

Campers contacted, safe

Sholly said the backpackers who remained in the park had been contacted. Crews were prepared to evacuate them by helicopter, but that has not yet been necessary, he said.

Sholly added that he did not believe the park was ever closed to flooding.

Gomez and her husband were among hundreds of tourists trapped in Gardiner, Mont., a town of about 800 people at the north entrance to the park. The town was closed for more than a day until Tuesday afternoon, when the crew reopened part of a washed-out two-lane road.

While the flooding cannot be directly attributed to climate change, it came as the Midwest and East Coast hissed from a heat wave and other parts of the West burned from an early wildfire season amid an ongoing drought that reduced the frequency and intensity of fires covering a wider area. have an impact. Smoke from a fire in the mountains of Flagstaff, Arizona, was seen in Colorado.

The flood also caused damage at nearby Red Lodge, Mont. Here you see a car sinking into a damaged road. (Matthew Brown/The Associated Press)

Statewide disaster declared

Rick Thoman, a climate specialist at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, said a warming environment makes extreme weather events more likely than they would have been “without the warming that human activity has created.”

“Will Yellowstone repeat this in five or even 50 years? Maybe not, but somewhere there will be something similar or even more extreme,” he said.

Heavy rain atop melting mountain snow pushed the Yellowstone, Stillwater and Clarks Fork rivers to record levels Monday, according to the National Weather Service.

Officials in Yellowstone and several southern Montana counties assessed damage from the storms, which also caused mud and rock slides. Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte declared a statewide disaster.

Residents of Red Lodge were seen Tuesday clearing mud, water and debris from the small town’s main street after water spilled through a residential area of ​​hundreds of homes. (Matthew Brown/The Associated Press)

Some of the worst damage occurred in the northern part of the park and Yellowstone’s gateway communities in southern Montana. National Park Service photos of northern Yellowstone showed a mudslide, washed away bridges and roads undercut by the churning waters of the Gardner and Lamar rivers.

In Red Lodge, Mont., a town of 2,100 that’s a popular jumping-off point for a scenic, winding route to the Yellowstone, a creek burst through the town and flooded the main road, causing trout swimming in the streets a day later. under a sunny sky.

Residents described a harrowing scene where the water went from a trickle to a torrent in just a few hours.

The water knocked over telephone poles, slammed fences and cut deep fissures in the ground through a neighborhood of hundreds of homes. The power went out but was restored on Tuesday, although there was still no running water in the affected neighborhoods.

On Monday, Yellowstone officials evacuated the northern portion of the park, where roads could remain impassable for significant time, Sholly said in a statement. But the flooding also affected the rest of the park, with park officials warning of even greater flooding and potential problems with water supply and wastewater systems in developed areas.

The rains hit as hotels in the region have been packed with summer tourists in recent weeks. Last year, more than four million visitors passed through the park. The surge in tourists doesn’t wane until the fall, and June is typically one of Yellowstone’s busiest months.