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See Death Valley's 1,000-Year Flood From Space

Furnace Creek was more like Flood Creek after an epic rain in the national park.

False-color satellite view of Death Valley flooding from Aug. 7 with flood water in dark blue.
Flood water appears in dark blue in this NASA Aqua satellite image from Aug. 7, 2022.
Lauren Dauphin, using MODIS data from NASA EOSDIS LANCE and GIBS/Worldview

The driest place in North America bucked its reputation on Aug. 5 when a 1,000-year rain event dumped water onto Death Valley National Park in California. The deluge damaged miles of roadway and forced visitors to shelter in place. NASA satellites tracked the flooding from orbit.

NASA's Earth Observatory shared the views from space on Wednesday. One image is from July 11 and shows normal conditions in the park. The other, from Aug. 7, shows in dark blue where the flood waters are. The false-color images aren't quite like how it would appear to the naked eye. The colors are meant to highlight surface features like vegetation (bright green) and saturated soil (light blue). 

A side-by-side annotated version of the two images shows just how much water came down on the usually parched area. 

NASA's Terra and Aqua satellites logged these views of Death Vallery from July 11 (left) and Aug. 7 (right) showing the rain event of early August.

Lauren Dauphin, using MODIS data from NASA EOSDIS LANCE and GIBS/Worldview

"The heavy rain that caused the devastating flooding at Death Valley was an extremely rare, 1,000-year event," said National Weather Service meteorologist Daniel Berc in a National Park Service statement on Aug. 7. "A 1,000-year event doesn't mean it happens once per 1,000 years, rather that there is a 0.1% chance of occurring in any given year."  

Beatty Cutoff road in Death Valley was damaged by a historic rain event in early August 2022.

NPS/M.Clark

Preliminary data showed that nearly a year's worth of rain fell within just three hours. Furnace Creek, the location of the park's visitor center, logged 1.46 inches (3.7 centimeters) of rain. The single-day record currently stands at 1.47 inches from 1988, while the average rainfall for a year is less than 2 inches (5 centimeters).

No injuries were reported. The NPS said it could possibly take months to repair and reopen all the damaged roads. 

"It is the hottest place in the world, and the driest place in North America. This week's 1,000-year flood is another example of this extreme environment," said park superintendent Mike Reynolds. "With climate change models predicting more frequent and more intense storms, this is a place where you can see climate change in action."