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Yellowstone shuts down after record rainfall ravages roads

National park officials have closed Yellowstone through the week

A bridge is washed out at Rescue Creek in Yellowstone National Park in Montana on June 13. (National Park Service/AP)
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Yellowstone National Park officials announced Monday that all five entrances have closed to visitors — including those with lodging and camping reservations — after unprecedented amounts of rainfall created “extremely hazardous conditions.”

Photos and video the park uploaded to its Flickr account show brown water surging through entire sections of road that had been carved out after flooding, mudslides and rockslides. A combination of snowmelt and heavy rain caused river levels to surge. The Yellowstone River at Corwin Springs, Mont., rose 6 feet between Sunday and Monday to its highest level on record, several feet above the previous high mark from 1918.

On Wednesday, park superintendent Cameron Sholly said the southern loop of Yellowstone may reopen on Monday at the earliest, reports the Casper Star Tribune.

“We will not know timing of the park’s reopening until floodwaters subside and we’re able to assess the damage throughout the park,” Sholly said in an earlier statement.

Yellowstone National Park officials announced June 13 that all five entrances have been temporarily closed to visitors after record rainfall. (Video: Julie Yoon/The Washington Post)

Park officials say their first priority has been to evacuate the northern section of the park facing road and bridge failures as well as mudslides. Later Monday, they’ll begin to move visitors in the park’s southern section.

“We will continue to communicate about this hazardous situation as more information is available,” Sholly said.

Early assessments show roads throughout the park have been washed out or covered in mud and rocks. For current road conditions in the park, visit the Park Roads website or text 82190 to 888-777 to receive road alerts to your phone.

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The rainfall has affected residents and visitors in the region.

Roads to the isolated community of Gardiner were destroyed, leaving people stranded there without knowing when they can get out. The Montana Department of Environmental Quality has issued a “do not drink” order for water in the area.

Bridges to other flooded Montana towns, like Silver Gate and Cooke City, have also been flooded. Those in the impacted region have been warned to watch for displaced wildlife such as bears, deer and domestic livestock.

Yellowstone National Park in Gardiner, Mont., experienced record rainfall and extensive flooding on June 13. (Video: The Washington Post)

Park workers watched a riverfront home for employees washed away into the Yellowstone River; a GoFundMe has since been set up for its residents.

Sholly said the park is working with state and county officials to support residents.

“We’ve got so many Montana communities right now that are being flooded and without electricity and our heart goes out to them,” said Katrina Wiese, president and CEO of Destination Yellowstone.

The Montana National Guard has been conducting search and rescue operations by helicopter and evacuated at least 12 people from Roscoe and Cooke City. The Kalispell, Mont., philanthropic search and rescue organization Two Bear Air is also helping with evacuations.

Those planning to visit the park soon may want to reschedule, Wiese said.

“We know that the park is definitely closed for the next two days,” Wiese said. “And after that, they have to wait for the waters to subside to see the impact and the damage — that’ll give them a better look at how long it’s going to take to reopen the park.”

Periods of heavy rain have swept across the northern Rockies since the weekend as a plume of atmospheric moisture from the Pacific Ocean entered the region.

Known as an “atmospheric river,” the storm system produced record rainfall in parts of Washington and Oregon, including Seattle late last week. The atmospheric river was rated a level 5 out of 5 by the Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes.

“It’s remarkably unusual to have an AR5 [Category 5 atmospheric river] in June in the Northwest,” Marty Ralph, who directs the center, told the Capital Weather Gang.

Rainfall measurements from the park indicate 2 to 3 inches fell over the past three days. The torrents were preceded by “unseasonably warm weather,” which caused snow in the high terrain to melt into rivers and streams, according to the National Weather Service.

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While the record-breaking weather is an anomaly, it “is becoming more and more common, especially for parks out West, where there are some issues with climate change,” said Alex Schnee, a National Parks travel expert native to Montana.

Her advice for anyone considering a trip to the area is to plan with flexibility — whether for your travel dates or general itinerary.

If unexpected events make it impossible to visit specific points of interest, “look into some other options outside of the park, because there are some awesome things to see that aren’t necessarily in the park itself,” Schnee said, such as exploring towns like Bozeman and Butte or exploring public lands away from rivers and water sources.

Deby Dixon contributed reporting to this story.

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