Zion National Park and flash floods: Advice for travelers facing monsoon season

·4 min read

The latest heatwave has passed, but the flash flood warnings are back at Zion National Park and the rest of Utah's national parks.

Park spokesperson Amanda Rowland said flash floods are probable this week in a Wednesday press conference, asking visitors to be vigilant.

"It's really important for folks to know where they're going, plan ahead, but also that they assess and make decisions about the hikes and areas that they are going into," she said.

Using the National Weather Service flash flood potential rating service, officials are asking visitors to plan around the weather, especially if they've never experienced these conditions before.

"The majority of the country doesn't have a weather pattern like this, so some folks are not aware of the risks involved and don't really understand that monsoon pattern," Rowland said.

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More from June 29: Zion National Park, flooded by rain, struggles with road closures

From July to September, torrential rains can wash out trails, parking lots, structures and debris, causing damage and posing dangers to visitors with sometimes little warning.

"As you know if you're from the area, that it can be a clear beautiful sunny day and that storm then comes into the area," Rowland said, emphasizing that a flash flood can easily sneak up on hikers, particularly in narrow canyons like popular hike The Narrows.

Also, many spots in Zion do not have cell service, so visitors might not receive flash flood alerts – a reason why officials stress for visitors to plan ahead.

Cleanup is still ongoing after the park received over an inch an hour of rain on June 29, with the Watchman Trail remaining closed, RV parking lot damage being resurfaced, debris still being removed and local businesses rebuilding.

Damaged by flash floods: Rural clinic outside Zion National Park asks for help

While Tuesday also had a "probable" flash flood warning, evening precipitation in southern Utah did not turn into a flash flood. Danger still persists during this season, officials say.

"When you think of a wall of water coming down, you can also think of it like if you were to pour water out of a glass, how it comes down very forcefully. So that's what's happening in some of these places," Rowland said.

And with the historic drought, low soil moisture levels are making mudslides more likely, "where literally that soil is not able to absorb that moisture in that timeframe," Rowland said.

ICYMI: After flash flood, mudslide, Zion National Park begins road debris clean up

Since the most recent flood, Zion's physical scientist and hazard geologists have examined the area and are including prevention measures in the plan forward.

"It's not only the repairs and the "damage" that had been done, but it's also we really want to be prepared and learn from what happened. So modeling of where the water came down, also having some of those specialists come out and do some of those assessments," Rowland said about cost estimates.

While the park recovers and prepares for the next waves of rain, officials are asking people to be diligent in planning ahead.

If someone is caught in a flash flood, the first piece of advice is to find cover, whether that be in a car, shuttle or building, and to get to higher ground as soon as possible.

It's important not to drive or walk into the water, as it only takes six inches of water to knock a person off their feet, the National Weather Service warns.

The most important thing is to stay informed and monitor official warnings, though.

A flash flood guide for visitor safety.
A flash flood guide for visitor safety.

Capitol Reef National Park, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument are expected to flood on Wednesday, with probable flash flooding in all other national parks and recreation areas in the state, according to the National Weather Service. Possible flash flooding is expected on Thursday.

For the most up-to-date information, warnings and radar, visit the National Weather Service flash flood potential rating service.

Elle Cabrera contributed to this story.

K. Sophie Will is the National Parks Reporter for The Spectrum & Daily News through the Report for America initiative by The GroundTruth Project. Follow her on Twitter at @ksophiewill or email her at kswill@thespectrum.com. Donate to Report for America here.

This article originally appeared on St. George Spectrum & Daily News: Zion National Park: What to do if you're caught in a flash flood

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