ST. GEORGE – Sudden flash flooding is common in Zion National Park this time of year, and officials are asking everyone to do their part to be prepared.
Last year, record-breaking flooding occurred in the park and near Springdale.
“National Park Service maintenance personnel responded quickly to the damage caused by last year’s flooding,” said Jonathan Shafer, Zion National Park public affairs specialist. “Thanks to their hard work, the park has Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway the day after Zion was flooded. Looking ahead, we have cleared drainage infrastructure to help protect roads, pathways and parking lots.”
Shafer advises anyone visiting Zion National Park during the monsoon season to check the forecast beforehand. And when you’re in the park, speak to a park ranger to understand the dangers of flash flooding.
“Flash floods are a sudden increase in the depth and speed of water in a river, stream, or washdown due to rain,” Shafer said. “Flooding carries large debris such as logs and boulders and can happen at any time in Zion National Park.”
According to the Zion website, flash flooding is unpredictable and can be deadly, including blunt force impact from large debris. Slot canyons are extremely dangerous and can happen even in sunny skies. People are warned not to try to escape a flash flood.
During the summer, Shafer encourages visitors to plan like a park ranger by keeping a few factors in mind:
- Find the forecast. Planning for the weather keeps you comfortable and keeps events like floods or thunderstorms at bay.
- Check current park conditions for information on road construction, temporary closures, and Park Wilderness.
- Know where you will spend the night. Reserve a place in a campsite or hotel – these facilities fill up quickly and can be booked when you are planning your trip.
- Camping in the park is only allowed on campsites. Camping is not permitted on roadsides, lookout points, exit points, trailheads or other parking areas.
- Reduce waiting times at park entrances. Have your interagency annual pass and ID ready to show to a ranger before arriving at a park entrance station.
- Expect limited voice and data coverage on your phone.
- Get the National Park Service app before you arrive.
The park is also exploring new options for dealing with flooding in the future. During the 2021 floods, some of the south entrance gates were rendered unusable and the park was closed.
“We are also evaluating if and how we can make changes to the south entrance and south campground that would help us improve road and trail circulation and include planning for these types of events,” Shafer said.
Zion National Park Superintendent Jeff Bradybaugh spoke about some proposed options the park is exploring during a public Zoom presentation in May. Some of the ideas discussed range from the rehabilitation of the south campground and the way visitors circulate around the south entrance, including the visitor center, to the park’s campgrounds, multi-purpose trail, and shuttle system.
“It’s really important that we get this right and we hope you’ll help us with that,” Bradybaugh said. “We are in the early stages of this project and are considering your input, ideas and suggestions to make this proposed program more viable. Help visitors access the park while protecting the park’s resources.”
He added that over the past decade, especially the previous 5-6 years, the park has seen a dramatic increase in visitor numbers. More than 5 million people visited the park last year alone.
The flash floods of 2021 damaged the park’s south entrance. dr Brian Carter, head of the park’s facilities management program, said managing flooding and increasing visitor numbers is a challenge. State Route 9 also has restrictions and comes through Springdale.
“We have done our best to maximize our ability to provide visitors with smooth entry into the park,” Carter said. “However, once past the shuttle stations, there can be cross traffic as visitors try to navigate either to the visitor center or further through the park. This can cause some traffic flow problems and some increase risk and safety.”
According to the Zion National Park website, helpful tips include:
Familiarize yourself with the flash flood potential rating system:
Unexpectedly: Flash floods are not expected. Your safety is your responsibility.
Possible: Flash flooding may occur in some slot canyons, dry washes and small streams.
Probably: Flash flooding is expected in some slot canyons, dry washes and small creeks.
Expected: Many slot canyons, dry washes and small creeks are expected to be affected by flash flooding.
Familiarize yourself with signs of an impending flash flood:
• Surge in the water
• Changing the color of the water
• Rushing of the water
• Increased dirt in the water
During a flash flood:
• Stay out of the water – do not attempt to cross or enter the water
• Six inches of water can knock you off your feet
• Stay as high as possible and be patient. It can take hours for flood waters to recede
• Flash floods occur quickly, so act quickly. Go to a higher level immediately. Don’t waste your time picking up your gear
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