Yellowstone park closed for first time in 34 years

Heavy rain and warmer temperatures melting mountain snow drive record floods just as tourist season was getting underway.

Raging river waters on the left of Yellowstone's North Entrance road destroy part of the road.
The raging waters of the Gardner River tore away parts of Yellowstone's Northern Entrance road [National Park Service/Handout via Reuters]

All five entrances to Yellowstone National Park in the United States have been closed after record floods triggered by heavy rain and glacier melt destroyed roads and bridges and inundated nearby communities.

The entire park, spanning parts of the western states of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, will be closed to visitors including those with lodging and camping reservations, at least until Wednesday as officials inspect the damage, the park superintendent said on Monday.

It is the first time all five park entrances have been closed to visitors since a series of devastating wildfires in 1988.

The National Park Service (NPS) said it was working to evacuate visitors and staff remaining at various locations, especially in the hardest-hit northern part of the iconic park.

“It is likely that the northern loop will be closed for a substantial amount of time,” the park superintendent, Cam Sholly, said in a statement.

Aerial footage released by NPS showed large parts of the winding North Entrance Road between Gardiner and park headquarters in Mammoth Hot Springs, Wyoming, washed away by surging floodwaters along the Gardner River.

The flooding cut off road access to Gardiner, a town of about 900 people and home to many Yellowstone staff, just outside the park’s North Entrance.

At a cabin in the town, Indiana resident Parker Manning got an up-close view of the water rising and the raging Yellowstone River floodwaters slicing the riverbank just outside his door.

“We started seeing entire trees floating down the river, debris,” Manning told The Associated Press news agency. “Saw one crazy single kayaker coming down through, which was kind of insane.”

Other roads were also washed away or covered in rocks and mud with a number of bridges also damaged, and there were some power cuts in various parts of the 890,000-hectare (2.2 million-acre) park.

The park service said the rain and floods sweeping the park were unprecedented, with the Yellowstone River reaching 4.2 metres (13.8 feet) on Monday, higher than the previous record of 3.5 metres (11.5 feet) set in 1918, according to the National Weather Service.

A sudden spike in summer temperatures over the past three days has also accelerated the melting of snow that had accumulated on the mountains during late winter storms.

“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, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Billings, Montana. “This is flooding that we’ve just never seen in our lifetimes before.”

The rain will probably ease while cooler temperatures will reduce snowmelt in coming days, Mottice said.

Yellowstone, established as the world’s first national park in 1872 and treasured as one of the US’s top outdoor travel destinations, is famed for its geysers, abundant wildlife and spectacular scenery.

About four million people a year usually visit the area.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies