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Yellowstone partially reopened this week after June 13 closure

Yellowstone: A demolished road, next to a stream.
On June 23, 2022, the U.S. Federal Highway Administration announced $65M in emergency relief funds for use by the National Park Service, to help repair flood damage in Yellowstone National Park and surrounding areas that rely on tourism as an important part of their local economies. Image via Federal Highway Administration (@USDOTFHWA onTwitter)/ Yellowstone National Park (@YellowstoneNPS on Twitter).

Restrictions for visitors to Yellowstone

The southern portion of Yellowstone National Park opened on June 22, 2022, with some restrictions, and with three of Yellowstone’s five entrances opening. The iconic park had closed on June 13 – for the first time in 34 years – due to flooding. Yellowstone typically receives a million visitors a month during July and August, according to Yellowstone Superintendent Cam Sholly, speaking with USA Today. Important: To keep visitor numbers down while repairs continue, park managers will use a system that only allows cars with even-numbered last digits on their license plates to enter on even days, while vehicles with odd-numbered last numbers can come on odd days. The National Park Service also said that the:

Northern portion of Yellowstone National Park is likely to remain closed for a substantial length of time due to severely damaged, impacted infrastructure.

The park service asks visitors who have plans to visit the park to stay informed about any changes, including road and weather conditions.

Click here for updates on Yellowstone closures

Map of roads open and closed in Yellowstone

Road map of roads open and closed in Yellowstone National Park, June 2022.
View larger. | A road map of Yellowstone National Park – current as of June 24, 2022 – indicating points of interest, park road closures due to flooding and improvement projects, and areas where flood impacts occurred. Via NPS update page.

Why did the flooding happen?

NASA’s Earth Observatory shared images of the Yellowstone area from last year compared to this year as flooding rampaged the park. The flooding occurred after several inches of rain fell on the area at the same time that a warm spell began melting the heavy snowpack. The National Weather Service out of Billings, Montana, told NASA:

This led to flooding rarely or never seen before across many area rivers and streams.

While the area had been experiencing drought conditions, April brought more precipitation, which helped build up the snowpack. Then came up to 5 inches of rain from June 10 to 13. The rainfall, plus 2 to 5 inches of snowmelt at the same time, was too much for the already-damp soil to absorb. Maps below show the snowpack and soil moisture for the greater Yellowstone area for 2021 compared to 2022.

Side by side satellite image of Yellowstone with more snow on the right.
View larger. | The image on the left shows Yellowstone National Park on June 16, 2021, while the image on the right shows Yellowstone National Park on June 16, 2022. See how much more snowpack there is in the mountains in 2022? Image via NASA Earth Observatory.
Side by side of Yellowstone map with brown colors on left and blue on right.
These are soil moistures maps for the greater Yellowstone area. In 2021, the area was in drought, while in 2022, conditions were improving. Image via NASA Earth Observatory.

Yellowstone closed June 13

All entrances to Yellowstone National Park closed on June 13, 2022. The U.S. National Park Service said that they closed the park due to:

… Heavy flooding, rockslides, extremely hazardous conditions.

The Park Service said they had to wait for flood waters to recede to conduct evaluations on roads, bridges and wastewater treatment facilities to ensure visitor and employee safety. The last time Yellowstone closed was due to the devastating wildfires of 1988.

North entrance particularly affected

And, with much of the road washed out near Gardiner, Montana, the north entrance will be closed indefinitely. The community of Gardiner has found itself cut off from surrounding areas. Yellowstone park superintendent Cam Sholly said:

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. 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. The community of Gardiner is currently isolated, and we are working with the county and State of Montana to provide necessary support to residents, who are currently without water and power in some areas.

Yellowstone flooding of historic proportions

Heavy rain plus snowmelt caused rivers to overflow their banks in areas of southwestern Montana and northwestern Wyoming. The Yellowstone River north of the park at Corwin Springs rose to nearly 14 feet (4 meters), a new record. The previous record was 11 1/2 feet (3.5 meters), set more than 100 years ago on June 14, 1918.

As you can see from the video in the tweet from Yellowstone National Park below, the North Entrance Road that leads into the northwestern corner of the park from Gardiner, Montana, suffered massive damage due to the flooding.

Surrounding area impacted by flooding

Flooding also inundated communities in Montana upriver from Yellowstone National Park. Floodwaters have swamped communities including Gardiner, Cooke City, Red Lodge, Silver Gate, Livingston and more. The Montana National Guard performed rescues in Roscoe and Cooke City, successfully evacuating people who were stranded by floodwaters.

Yellowstone: Roaring river beside road where guardrail is falling and road partially washed out.
The North Entrance Road into Yellowstone National Park washed out in multiple places as the Gardner River overflowed its banks during heavy flooding on Monday, June 13, 2022. The historic Yellowstone flooding closed the park for the first time in 34 years. By June 22, the southern loop of the park reopened with some restrictions. Image via National Park Service.

Bottom line: Historic Yellowstone flooding temporarily closed the park. The park reopened on a limited basis on June 22. Learn why the flood happened here.

Click here for updates on Yellowstone closures

Read more: Study reveals biggest Yellowstone supervolcano eruption

June 24, 2022

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Kelly Kizer Whitt

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