Superbloom or Superbust? Death Valley’s Rainfall Reality.

Death Valley is a name you wouldn’t expect to hear regarding record-breaking rainfall. But when the remnants of Hurricane Hilary swept through in 2023, it resulted in record-breaking rainfall. That storm dumped a staggering 2.2 inches of rain in just one day, making it the park’s rainiest day ever. The recent atmospheric river also brought 1.5 inches of rain in one day.

Will all this rain lead to a Death Valley Superbloom?

Experts say “not likely.”

The weather gauge at Furnace Creek has painted a wet picture, recording 4.9 inches of rain over the past six months. But don’t get your hopes up for a Superbloom event. Even though there has been historic rainfall, Death Valley Public Affairs Officer Abby Wines suggests it’s not likely to happen this year. Even so, the impact of this year’s atmospheric river on the Death Valley world is a fascinating story in its own right.

A sign describing Badwater Basin in Death Valley National Park with a temporary lake and mountains in the background.
Badwater Basin Death-Valley. Photo Credit: NPS, Giovanna Ponce.

Key Takeaways

  • Death Valley experienced a record-breaking rainfall of 2.2 inches in one day in August 2023, caused by the remnants of Hurricane Hilary – an event unusual for this famously dry area.
  • An atmospheric river recently dropped an additional 1.5 inches of rain into Death Valley during February 4-7, 2024.
  • Death Valley National Park only averages less than 2 inches of rainfall each year. In the years of 1929 and 1953 no rainfall was recorded.
  • Despite the historic rainfall, the chances of a Superbloom event are relatively low due to the complex conditions required for it to occur.
  • The substantial rainfall has led to significant damage, including the closure of multiple paved roads and backcountry roads due to erosion and flood damage. The repair costs are estimated to be about $6 million for roads to the park, and more inside the park. 
  • A remarkable effect of the unusual rainfall was the temporary formation of a lake in the traditionally dry salt flat known as Badwater Basin, which at one time was about 7 miles long, 4 miles wide, and two feet deep.
  • The National Park Service and restoration crews face tough challenges in restoring the park’s infrastructure and preserving its unique ecosystem amidst the changing weather patterns.
National Park Service Abby Wines 2017

"I could be proved wrong, but I still only think we're going to have nice flowers, but not solid carpets of flowers. If we were having a Superbloom, it would be starting already."

Historic rainfall events in Death Valley

The weather gauge at Furnace Creek in Death Valley National Park has been busy measuring unprecedented levels of rainfall. Over the past half-year, it has received 4.9 inches of precipitation. Most notably, the remnants of Hurricane Hilary dumped a significant 2.2 inches on August 20 alone. The recent atmospheric river event only added to this notably wet season, with an impressive 1.5 inches measured from February 4-7.

The damage from these historic levels of rainfall is significant and far-reaching. The floodwaters have wreaked havoc on roadways, with extensive damage to the essential State Routes 190 and 136 and others within the Park. Caltrans believes the cumulative repair costs for these state routes will be at least $6 million. Moreover, vital areas like the westbound lane of Route 190 west of Towne Pass have lost about 1500 feet of pavement.

The unpredictable nature of these weather events — while fascinating in their rarity — has led to road closures, a phased reopening, and, eventually, an uncertain timeline for restoration. And all this rainfall has yet to improve the forecast for a Superbloom event. Despite its name, Death Valley is known for its impressive displays of wildflowers after heavy winter rainfalls. Still, the extraordinarily high levels of rain this year will likely wash away the growth, dashing our hopes for an expansive Superbloom.

One of the significant impacts of these weather events is the acceleration of erosion and potential loss of roads. Erosion that has yet to take its toll makes monitoring road conditions and planning restoration efforts even more daunting for the National Park Service and local entities.

As the weather patterns change, so do the elements that make up the unique ecosystem of Death Valley National Park. We must understand and respond to these changes to best preserve and restore the natural beauty that makes this Park a national treasure.

Regarding the next steps, the phased reopening of damaged roads is one of Death Valley’s top priorities. The hope is to restore complete service to State Route 190 within the next three months. It’s a challenging job by diligent restoration crews working hard to tackle the flood damage, one road and one foot at a time. Until then, officials ask visitors to follow all updates on road closures when planning a Death Valley National Park visit.

Desert Gold (Geraea Canescens) blooming in Death Valley National Park.

The significance of recent rainfall in Death Valley

Recent weather events have surpassed the typical limit, resulting in the significant inundation of Death Valley National Park, highlighted by the record-breaking rainfall courtesy of the remnants of Hurricane Hilary.

Paved Roads Closed in Death Valley

These unusual climatic events have led to the closures of multiple paved roads throughout the Park– Artists Drive, Dantes View Road, and even Wildrose Road, to list a few. Flood recovery work is currently in process, and several closures are due to last till 2025, with some high-priority areas set to reopen as early as late February.

Backcountry and Unpaved Roads Closed in Death Valley

Most worryingly, the damage extends even further into the Park’s backcountry. Many unpaved roads are closed to the public because of the aftermath of the atmospheric river that swept through in February. Roads such as Salt Creek, Lower Wildrose (aka Trona), Titus Canyon, and others have been rendered impassable with broken bridges, 9-foot deep cuts, and extensive flood damage. Several roads will remain shut until 2025 – a haunting reminder of the storm’s impact.

A Temporary Lake in Badwater Basin

The most stunning result of the recent weather pattern is the temporary lake formed in Badwater Basin, traditionally a dry salt flat. As a result of the unusually heavy rain in August 2023, the formation of a vast shallow lake, up to 7 miles long, 4 miles wide, and about two feet deep, has lasted for almost six months. This temporary lake offers astonishing reflections of the mountains and clear evidence of the power of the atmospheric river event.

As I keep current on the weather conditions, I monitor the possibility of a Superbloom event. But, given the reports from Park officials, the likelihood of a Superbloom happening this year seems relatively low. This historic rainfall incident in Death Valley National Park continues to be a significant concern for the National Park Service, marking the beginning of an arduous road to recovery and presenting a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to witness the transformation of the driest place in North America.

Death Valley is unlikely to have a Superbloom this year.

Even though the remnants of Hurricane Hilary caused the record-breaking rainfall in Death Valley National Park, it’s safe to presume this isn’t going to trigger a widespread Superbloom in the region this year.

It Takes More Than a Lot of Rain to Create a Superbloom

Though it might seem logical to think that a deluge of rain in such a dry, arid place like Death Valley would pave the way for a Superbloom of wildflowers, it’s not that simple. Superblooms are awe-inspiring spectacles of nature. They erupt when conditions are just right – a mixture of ample rainfall, the right temperature, lack of damaging winds, and precise timing of these factors.

In the case of Death Valley National Park, we have certainly seen substantial rain., The remnants of Hurricane Hilary brought 2.2 inches of rainfall in one day. That’s more than what the desert park typically receives in a year. But, while this downpour might appear abundant enough to begin a Superbloom, that’s an oversimplification of the complex process.

Park Ranger Abby Wines illustrates this point, stating, “I could be proved wrong, but I still only think we’re going to have nice flowers, but not solid carpets of flowers. If we were having a Superbloom, it would be starting already.”

Other Factors Affecting the Chance of a Superbloom

Let’s consider some other factors at play. Superblooms don’t merely require rain but the right kind of rain. An atmospheric river, for example, elicits steady, gentle showers over a few days or weeks, which is ideal for seed growth. However, the powerhouse that was Hurricane Hilary resulted in catastrophic floodwaters, causing extensive damage and not being conducive to nurturing delicate wildflowers.

Also, the timing of the rain plays a pivotal role in the occurrence of a Superbloom. The majority of Death Valley’s wildflowers are winter growers; they germinate in the fall, grow throughout winter, and then, if conditions are right, burst into bloom in early spring.

So, it’s not merely about the quantity of rain but rather about the conditions and timing of this rainfall, contributing to the low likelihood of a Superbloom in Death Valley National Park this year. Even though this, the National Park Service continues its avid work in repair and recovery after the augmenting damages, again demonstrating nature’s sheer power and unpredictable ways.

Love Hiking News is an integral part of Love Hiking Club, dedicated to delivering in-depth news and reports on National Parks. We focus on bringing the latest updates, fascinating stories, and insightful interviews from the heart of nature’s wonders.

Our commitment is to keep outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers informed about the diverse landscapes, unique events, and conservation efforts shaping our National Parks. 

My name is Rich, and I love to hike!

I grew up in Idaho, with plenty of hiking and camping just minutes away from our home. Growing up, we spent summers at the lake and falls in the mountains. Camping and hiking with friends was such a special way to spend time together. I’ve spent a lifetime outdoors, hiking, camping, fishing and hunting.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *