Floods leave Yellowstone landscape ‘dramatically altered’

Floods leave Yellowstone landscape ‘dramatically altered’

Yellowstone National Park Flood (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Yellowstone National Park Flood (Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

The forces of fire and ice have shaped Yellowstone National Park over thousands of years. It took decades longer for humans to tame it enough for tourists to visit, often from the comfort of their cars.

In just a few days, heavy rains and rapidly melting snow have caused a dramatic flood that could forever alter the human footprint on the park’s grounds and the communities that have grown up around it.

The historic floods that ravaged Yellowstone this week, destroying bridges and flooding nearby homes, diverted a popular fishing river — possibly permanently — and could force roads nearly destroyed by torrents of water to be rebuilt in new places.

“The landscape has literally and figuratively changed dramatically in the last 36 hours,” said Bill Berg, commissioner of nearby Park County. “A bit ironic that this spectacular landscape was created by violent geological and hydrological events, and it’s not very helpful when that happens while we’re all here sorted out.”

The unprecedented flood took more than 10,000 visitors out of the country’s oldest national park and damaged hundreds of homes in nearby communities, though notably none were injured or killed. The only visitors left in the massive park that spans three states were a dozen campers who were still making their way out of the wilderness.

The park may remain closed for a week, and the northern entrances may not reopen this summer, Superintendent Cam Sholly said.

“I hear this is a 1,000 year old event, whatever that means these days. They seem to be happening more and more often,” he said.

Sholly noted that some weather forecasts include the possibility of additional flooding this weekend.

Days of rain and rapid thaw wreaked havoc in parts of southern Montana and northern Wyoming, where it leveled cabins, flooded small towns and shut off power. It arrived at the park as the summer tourist season that attracts millions of visitors was ramping up during its 150th anniversary year.

Businesses in hard-hit Gardiner have started to recover from the tourism contraction brought on by the coronavirus pandemic and were hoping for a good year, Berg said.

“It’s a Yellowstone town, and it lives and dies by tourism, and this is going to be a big hit,” he said. “They’re trying to figure out how to keep things together.”

Some of the worst damage occurred in the northern part of the park and in the Yellowstone communities of southern Montana. National Park Service photos of northern Yellowstone showed a landslide, bridges and roads destroyed by the choppy waters of the Gardner and Lamar Rivers.

In Red Lodge, a town of 2,100 that is a popular starting point for a scenic route to the Yellowstone Mountains, a creek that runs through the town jumped its banks and flooded the main thoroughfare, leaving trout swimming in the street a day later. under sun skies.

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

The water toppled telephone poles, toppled fences and opened deep fissures in the ground in a neighborhood of hundreds of homes. Electricity was restored on Tuesday, but there was still no running water in the affected neighborhood.

Heidi Hoffman left early Monday morning to buy a sump pump at Billings, but when she returned her basement was full of water.

“We lost all our belongings in the basement,” Hoffman said as the pump removed a steady stream of water from his muddy backyard. “Yearbooks, photos, clothes, furniture. We would be cleaning for a long time.”

At least 200 homes were flooded in Red Lodge and the town of Fromberg.

The floods came as the Midwest and East Coast swarm with a heat wave and other parts of the West have been burning since the wildfire season began amid a lingering drought that has increased the frequency and intensity of fires. Smoke from a fire in the mountains of Flagstaff, Arizona can be seen in Colorado.

While the floods have not been directly attributed to climate change, Rick Thoman, a climate expert at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, said a warming environment makes extreme weather events more likely than they would be “without the warming that human activity does.” caused. .”

“Will Yellowstone have a repeat of this in five or even 50 years? Maybe not, but somewhere there will be something equivalent or even more extreme,” she said.

Heavy rains on top of the mountain’s melting snow pushed the Yellowstone, Stillwater and Clarks Fork rivers to record levels on Monday and triggered rocks and mudslides, according to the National Weather Service. The Yellowstone River at Corwin Springs surpassed a record set in 1918.

Northern Yellowstone roads can remain impassable for a substantial period of time. Flooding has also affected the rest of the park, with park officials warning of even greater flooding and potential problems with water supplies and wastewater systems in developed areas.

The rains hit as hotels in the area filled up in recent weeks with summer tourists. More than 4 million visitors were accounted for by the park last year. The tourist rush doesn’t subside until the fall, and June is typically one of Yellowstone’s busiest months.

Mark Taylor, owner and chief pilot of Rocky Mountain Rotors, said his company transported about 40 of Gardiner’s paying customers in the past two days, including two women who were “very pregnant.”

Taylor spoke while transporting a family of four adults from Texas, who wanted to do a few more rides before heading home.

“I imagine they’re going to rent a car and go look at other parts of Montana — somewhere drier,” he said.

In a cabin in Gardiner, Parker Manning of Terre Haute, Indiana, got a close-up view of the turbulent waters of the Yellowstone River outside his door. Entire trees and even a lone canoeist passed by.

Earlier in the evening, he recorded video as the waters consumed the opposite bank, where a large brown house that housed park workers before they were evacuated was perched precariously.

In a great crash heard over the roar of the river, the house fell into the water and was pulled into the current. Sholly said it floated five miles before sinking.

The towns of Cooke City and Silvergate, east of the park, were also cut off by floodwaters, which also made drinking water unsafe. People left a hospital and low-lying areas in Livingston.

In south central Montana, 68 people at a campsite were rescued by raft after flooding in the Stillwater River. Some roads in the area were closed and residents were evacuated.

In Nye village, at least four huts ended up in the Stillwater River, said Shelley Blazina, including one she owned.

“It was my sanctuary,” she said on Tuesday. “Yesterday I was in shock. Today I am just in intense sadness.”

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Whitehurst reported from Salt Lake City. Associated Press writers Amy Beth Hanson in Helena, Becky Bohrer in Juneau, Alaska, RJ Rico in Atlanta, and Brian Melley in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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