Torrential rains as a result of Hurricane Hilary have put national parks in the western United States at risk of flooding this weekend, including Zion in Utah and Joshua Tree and Death Valley in California.
Utah’s prominent nature preserve distinguished by the steep, red cliffs of Zion Canyon is practically guaranteed to be flooded on both Friday and Saturday, according to the National Weather Service.
The weather service has assigned Zion National Park its highest potential flood rating of “expected” for at least the next two days, while flooding is considered probable at other national parks in the state.
The National Park Service has issued a flood warning of its own for Zion, advising visitors to avoid slot canyons — long, narrow passageways with rock walls on either side — through at least 6 a.m. MDT (8 a.m. EDT) on Saturday.
While Hurricane Hilary is forecasted to rapidly weaken as it moves through the Baja Peninsula in northern Mexico, the storm’s remnants are still expected to bring with it strong storms and monsoonal rainfall as it enters the southern and western portions of the U.S., the weather service said.
In Utah, the southwestern part of the state is at the greatest risk, especially by Saturday night when meteorologists expect the worst of the storm to hit, bringing with it the increased risk of flash flooding into the first half of next week.
In addition to the national parks, urban areas with poor drainage are also at risk of flooding, the weather service said.
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As the name suggests, flash floods can result in rivers, streams and other waterways rapidly increasing in depth and speed. Unpredictable in nature, flood waters carry large debris like tree trunks and boulders that are capable of causing fatal blunt-force trauma.
Surges in water, changes in water color, roaring water noises and increasing debris all signal that a flash flood is imminent.
A flash flood killed seven people in Zion in 2015.
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Vulnerable portions of the vast desert landscape known as Joshua Tree National Park will close Friday evening for an indefinite amount of time as park rangers anticipate the arrival of Hurricane Hilary.
This includes Geology Tour Road, which connects to several prominent hiking trails and viewpoints.
Named for the region’s gnarled Joshua trees, the park is at risk of experiencing heavy rains and flash flooding through Monday, rangers warned. The National Weather Service has indicated that a flood warning will go into effect for the area beginning at 11 a.m. pacific time Saturday and ending at 5 p.m. Monday.
Meanwhile in California’s Death Valley National Park, Hurricane Hilary may turn the normally bone-dry landscape into a massive lake, according to a report from AccuWeather.
Meteorologists with the agency say that the park, which sits below sea level southeast of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range, could see between 2 and 4 inches of rain, compared to the annual average of less than an inch.
As a result, park rangers have issued a warning to would-be hikers to be aware of the predicted flash floods that could deluge the park from Sunday through next Friday.
Even if the heaviest rain misses the park but drenches nearby areas, water runoff could still funnel water into Death Valley, washing out its roads and damaging its infrastructure, AccuWeather said.
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