Heavy rains are wreaking havoc on Yellowstone National Park, leading officials to close all entrances because of flooding, rockslides and “extremely hazardous conditions,” according to a statement.
The extreme weather is also damaging homes and washing out bridges in communities near the park, which is located in northwestern Wyoming, southwest Montana and southeast Idaho. Some cities and towns are completely surrounded by water, which has made it difficult for residents to evacuate; some communities do not have power or safe drinking water.
Already swollen with snowmelt, the Yellowstone River and its tributary, the Gardner River, received an “unprecedented” amount of rain from storms that swept the region over the weekend and into Monday, according to the park. The Yellowstone River’s waters rose from 6 feet measured depth to 15 feet, with six feet of that rise coming in just 24 hours, breaking previous records at numerous points along the river, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
Current conditions of Yellowstone’s North Entrance Road through the Gardner Canyon between Gardiner, Montana, and Mammoth Hot Springs.— Yellowstone National Park (@YellowstoneNPS) June 13, 2022
We will continue to communicate about this hazardous situation as more information is available. More info: https://t.co/mymnqGvcVB pic.twitter.com/S5ysi4wf8a
Video taken from a park helicopter on Monday showed the extent of the damage caused by the rushing brown waters of the Gardner River, which jumped its banks and destroyed stretches of road.
With more rain in the forecast, the park’s entrances will remain closed through at least Wednesday. Park staffers on Monday first evacuated the northern section of the park, where there were “multiple road and bridge failures, mudslides and other issues,” per a statement from Cam Sholly, Yellowstone’s superintendent. They also moved visitors out of the park’s southern loop because of concerns about water and wastewater.
“We will not know the timing of the park’s reopening until flood waters subside and we're able to assess the damage throughout the park,” Sholly said in the statement.
2022 marks the 150th anniversary of Yellowstone, and the flooding will likely affect this year’s commemorations. The park’s headquarters, museum and archives are also located at the northern entrance; as is the Roosevelt Arch, where Native American groups planned to erect a teepee village in late August.
Meanwhile, residents of Gardiner, a town of 900 sitting near the confluence of the Yellowstone and Gardner Rivers, as well as nearby Cooke City and Silver Gate, Montana, are isolated because flooding washed out roads and bridges, according to the Park County Sheriff’s Department. The waters are so high that entire houses have slipped into the river and floated away. Emergency responders are rescuing people via airlifts from their homes and from the water.
“The river has never been this high before by my house,” Elizabeth Aluck, a Gardiner resident who cannot evacuate, tells CNN’s Elizabeth Wolfe.
The heavy rains that fell over the weekend came from a storm system known as an “atmospheric river,” which is a surge of concentrated moisture that swept in from the Pacific Ocean and across the northern Rockies, reports the Washington Post’s Natalie B. Compton and Jason Samenow. The weather event also dropped record amounts of rain in Washington and Oregon last week.
Before that, the weather had been unseasonable warm in parts of the Rockies, per the National Weather Service, which caused more snow to melt and contributed to the flooding.
Greg Gianforte, Montana's governor, on Tuesday issued a statewide disaster declaration that will “help impacted communities get back on their feet as soon as possible,” according to an emailed statement, as reported by the Montana State News Bureau.