Surreal scenes from Yellowstone National Park, which is reeling from unprecedented flooding this week, show bridges collapsing into gushing rivers, roads submerged underwater, and waterfront houses swept away in the deluge.
Yellowstone—and nearby communities in Montana and Wyoming—are grappling with what the U.S. National Park Service called “extremely hazardous conditions from unprecedented amounts of rainfall,” in a statement that is still being updated with new information. The iconic park closed on Monday after locals and tourists in the area found themselves trapped, sometimes without power or safe drinking water, and unable to evacuate as dangerous landslides and flood waters battered transportation routes.
“Due to record flooding events in the park and more precipitation in the forecast, we have made the decision to close Yellowstone to all inbound visitation," Cam Sholly, the park’s superintendent, said in the statement. "Our first priority has been to evacuate the northern section of the park where we have multiple road and bridge failures, mudslides, and other issues.”
“Due to predictions of higher flood levels in areas of the park’s southern loop, in addition to concerns with water and wastewater systems, we will begin to move visitors in the southern loop out of the park later today in coordination with our in-park business partners,” he continued. “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. It is likely that the northern loop will be closed for a substantial amount of time.”
The record-breaking rainfall has both directly fueled the floods and accelerated the summer melt of snowpack at higher altitudes in the Rocky Mountains. This torrential combination caused the Yellowstone River to rise six feet from Sunday to Monday, breaking a record set in 1918.
“It’s a lot of rain, but the flooding wouldn’t have been anything like this if we didn’t have so much snow,” said Cory Mottice, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, according to the Associated Press. “This is flooding that we’ve just never seen in our lifetimes before.”
The flooding in Yellowstone is one of several extreme weather events occurring in the United States right now; more than 100 million Americans are under heat advisories on Tuesday and wildfires are causing evacuations and outages across the Southwest.
Extreme weather events are becoming both more common and more intense as a result of human-driven climate change, which is driven by greenhouse gasses emitted by the consumption of fossil fuels.