Yellowstone National Park's Northeast Entrance Road washed out near Soda Butte Picnic Area on June 13, 2022. (National Park Service)

Unprecedented precipitation and flooding clobbered Yellowstone National Park starting Sunday, destroying bridges, making roads impassable, stranding scores of people and wreaking untold havoc on infrastructure within Northwest Wyoming’s tourism engine. The scope of the damage prompted park officials to close all park entrances Monday.

A U.S. Geological Survey gauge on the Lamar River near the Tower Ranger Station tells the tale of the remarkable weather event. The tributary to the Yellowstone River on Monday topped 18,000 cubic feet of water per second, which surpassed the previous daily record by nearly 50%. The Lamar rose so high that its peak water level, 17 feet over the riverbed, surpassed the gauge’s “operational limit” by 2 feet, and the water level was 5 feet higher than during any other time in 82 years of recordkeeping

“It’s down to 15.5 feet right now, so at least it’s coming down,” National Weather Service meteorologist Jason Straub said Monday morning.

The weather calamity comes on the heels of an exceptionally dry winter, Natural Resources Conservation Service hydrologist Eric Larsen said. There was a record-low April 1 snowpack in the Yellowstone River headwaters, but that snow stuck around because of a wet, cool spring. Sunday and Monday’s torrential rains melted much of that snow, and the combined precipitation overwhelmed the waterways coursing through and surrounding the park. 

“All the streamflows that would have been running over the last month, it’s all coming off right now, quickly,” Larsen said. 

The Lamar River’s historic June 2022 flows eroded away the Northeast Entrance Road, which connects Yellowstone National Park headquarters in Mammoth Hot Springs with Silver Gate and Cooke City, Montana. (Yellowstone National Park)

Flows are setting new hydrological high-water records in the Yellowstone River headwaters and well downstream into Montana.

“The Corwin Springs gauge on the Yellowstone, which is just upstream of my house, hit like 52,000 CFS, which is way higher than it’s ever been before,” Larsen said. 

“It wiped out the Carbella bridge,” he said of the raging Yellowstone River. 

The Yellowstone River water level at the Corwin gauge approached 14 feet, shattering a 104-year-old record by 2.5 feet, according to its USGS monitor. 

Infrastructure in Yellowstone took such a beating that the National Park Service took the extraordinary step of shutting down all entrances into the park midmorning Monday. Park gates won’t open to inbound traffic Tuesday or Wednesday, officials announced in a press release.

“Due to record flooding events in the park and more precipitation in the forecast, we have made the decision to close Yellowstone to all inbound visitation,” Superintendent Cam Sholly said in a statement. “We will not know the timing of the park’s reopening until flood waters subside and we’re able to assess the damage throughout the park. It is likely that the northern loop will be closed for a substantial amount of time.” 

The community of Gardiner, Montana — home to many Yellowstone headquarters staffers — was “currently isolated,” as of Sholly’s midday statement: “We are working with the county and State of Montana to provide necessary support to residents, who are currently without water and power in some areas.”

A footbridge across the Gardner River along the Rescue Creek Trail was totally destroyed by the flooding event in Yellowstone National Park on June 13, 2022 (Yellowstone National Park)

Evacuations took place within the park and in locations just outside. 

The Cooke City-Silver Gate Volunteer Fire Department reported that there was “major flooding” in those two neighboring communities and that the Bannock Bridge in Cooke City is “gone.”

Silvergate was evacuated at 3 a.m. Monday, a host for the Beartooth Cafe told WyoFile. 

There were also overnight evacuations in the Roosevelt area, according to Yellowstone visitors who posted online

Yellowstone’s southern loop fared better initially, but was still being evacuated over the course of Monday, Sholly said in the statement. That’s due, he said, to “predictions of higher flood levels” and “concerns with water and wastewater systems.”  

The rain that fell in Yellowstone Sunday and Monday sailed past daily records, Straub said. A rain gauge on the Gibbon River near Norris Junction tallied 1.63 inches of precipitation by 9 a.m. Tuesday. A site on the north side of Yellowstone Lake recorded up 1.75 inches, beating the old daily record, 0.43 inches, by more than 400%, he said. 

“Single day observations over an inch are very rare,” Straub said. “We were already getting snowmelt, and add this 1 to 2 inches of rainfall and it started flowing fast into the valleys.” 

Northwest Wyoming was forecasting “periodic showers” into Tuesday, he said. Those rains could drop “a tenth or two-tenths” of precipitation at a time, but should abate by Tuesday evening. 

https://wyofile.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/06/720p.mp4
The Gardner River seen aerially June 13, 2022. (Yellowstone National Park)

In the meantime, Straub cautioned area travelers to make good choices.

“Keep away from any flooded roads,” he said, “and don’t go around barriers.” 

It’s all but assured there will be longer-term impacts to commerce and business in Yellowstone, said Mike Keller, general manager for the park’s largest concessionaire, Xanterra. 

“The road between Mammoth and Gardiner is pretty much gone in several places,” Keller said. “It’s completely eroded, plus into the hillside beyond. There are some roads in this park that are not going to reopen for a period of time.” 

All of Xanterra’s guests in the park are in the process of being evacuated. Employees, for now, are being allowed to stay. 

“We’ve closed everything in the park through Thursday night,” Keller said Monday afternoon. “We’re hoping to start opening things back up Friday, but the rivers still haven’t peaked yet.” 

Mike Koshmrl

Mike Koshmrl reports from Jackson on state politics and Wyoming's natural resources. Prior to joining WyoFile, he spent nearly a decade covering the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem’s wild places and creatures...

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  1. I have contended, since the 1980s that re-characterizing Global Warming as merely Climate Change was a grave mistake being made by all those who championed the name change. Globally, the earth’s atmosphere, the earth proper and its waters are demonstrably warming rapidly. That the whole of earth and its atmosphere are warming is a matter of simply measurement.

    Like numbers, thermometers don’t lie. The earth’s atmosphere behaves somewhat comparable to air surrounding everyone’s glass of iced-tea or cool & refreshing soda pop or beer bottle on humid day. The cold bottle cools the air around and results in the condensation that drips to the surface where the cold bottle or glass sits. Clouds are a bit like a puff of one’s warm & moist breathe coming in contact with the cold bottle or glass, a relatively cool mirror or cooler air. It’s called the frosting of a mirror or seeing one’s breath.

    Relatively warm air and cold clouds already saturated with water vapor respond to temperature change a bit like an ordinary damp or saturated cleaning sponge when being squeezed. The warm air and cold clouds drop water we call rain. No, it’s not God and/or angels crying up in heaven.

    A group of molecules of gases and those of most matter move closer together (huddle) as they cool, much like many mammals do, including humans, when their environment is cold. Why? It’s an energy thing. It’s because heat speeds up physical and chemical actions and reactions and the lack of heat slows them down. When living things respond to heat and cold they huddle or disperse accordingly and for reasons related to the conservation of energy or release of heat energy.

    The gases in our atmosphere are no different. When cooling, the atmosphere behaves like your cold glass of iced-tea or beverage of choice, a damp or wet sponge when squeezed and even just like you, when in a crowd on an extremely hot or cold day.

    Our warming atmosphere is holding more and more vapor supplied by our warming oceans and other bodies water. Warming water evaporates (vaporizes) more readily and at a faster rate, thus our growing weather extremes. When relatively warm, moist air contacts relatively cooler air that, of course, still exists in our planet’s atmosphere the warmer mass of air, with its greater capacity to hold water vapor, is cooled and dumps more rain, snow and even hail than our former generally cooler atmosphere was capable of producing.

    I continue to see all these political arguments continuing and outright false information being distributed as if such nonsense has anything all to do with the scientific explanations for the rapidly changing behavior of our rapidly warming atmosphere.

    Global warming and its causes is a much loftier issue than politics, opinions and outright nonsense can explain. Only science matters to those truly wishing to get to the unadulterated truth about global warming and the effects it is having on our planet.

    It is very true that we should not “blame” the atmosphere for what has recently happened in Yellowstone Nat’l Park. Nature is just following the laws of physics and in essence, its own rules, rules written long before humanity arrived. Perhaps we should stop the blame game altogether now, educate ourselves and work feverishly to slow or stop whatever human activities are greatly contributing to global warming.

    Playing violins did not save the Titanic nor did the panic, selfishness, cruelty, classism or vain hope save the ship. The only difference to this shipwreck scenario is that our entire earth is the ship that is sinking now. Not even the stronger, craftier, more privileged or lucky ones will escape the consequences we may face if we continue behaving like young children who haven’t a clue why they insist on playing with matches.

  2. It didn’t wreck anything people! It Mother Nature simply being her self. That how this jewel was created. The bridges and roads don’t belong there. Dirt/soil/landscaping was done to place those items there. Man needs to pick up its trash and leave it be.

  3. Brutal.

    Not sure if that 2nd pic is the Lamar, it might be Soda Butte Creek below Round Prairie?

  4. In 1970, I was in Denali National Park and experienced a rain on snow event. At this time, the train tracks were washed out. As people filled the train station, we were soon packed in like sardines. Fortunately, some had instruments and took turns singing to lessen the crowds’ growing panic.
    Two-days later, volunteers boarded to test the hasty repairs of the tracks. We didn’t sit in the seats but stood plastered to the hill side of the train with strict orders not to move. The result: I lived to tell the tale.

  5. EXTREMELY DEVASTATING DAMAGE: Fifty years ago the Rapid City flood caused damage on this scale and killed 243 people – a few years later, the Thompson Canyon flood near Fort Collins caused damage on this scale. The road damage in the northern section of the park can not be repaired easily and may take several years to accomplish and most certainly will be very, very expensive. The park should immediately apply for FEMA assistance and disaster designation in order to receive additional Federal funding. The National Guard was extremely helpful in Rapid City but lost 6 men killed in the flood. HUD also provided housing assistance and low rate 1% financing was available to businesses which had flood damage – the low interest loans allowed many Rapid City businesses to recover quickly from their losses and was available for housing also. The greater Yellowstone area will absolutely require a large injection of Federal assistance and funding. The Federal agencies have experience in responding to major disasters and can move quickly – the Governors of Montana and Wyoming need to declare disasters to get the ball rolling.

    The State National Guard units contain US Army Corp of Engineers bridge building companies which have Bailey bridges which can be quickly installed across some washed out streams. Please note, the National Guard units go to summer camp and may already be organized to respond – such was the case in Rapid City where the SD National Guard was already deployed in town the night of the flood. The Governors of Montana and Wyoming should request the Corp of Engineers to immediately divert bridge building companies to Yellowstone. I am a former Corp of Engineer officer with bridge building training and understand their capabilities. They definitely can be very useful especially in the summer.

    The impact on the local economies will be serious but there is Federal funding which will help with recovery. On the positive side, Yellowstone did not experience the loss of lives we did in 1972 in Rapid City. God bless. Lee

  6. Blame climate change! Since such “historic flooding” hasn’t been recorded in 80-some years, it must’ve never happened before and must therefore be caused by HUMANS and their EVIL carbon emissions.

      1. Adam is pointing out just what a hoax that climate change caused by the trace gas CO₂ actually is. There are some that if they have a bad hair day then that is due to too much CO₂. There will always be extreme weather events and they have not one damn thing to do with anthropogenic climate change

        1. J Doug. It is interesting you bring up all the hype the greens put out about CO2. They are responsible for all the biofuel plants spewing tons of CO2 into the air. But ignore what they created in push for ethonol use in cars. Remember how they claimed that was the solution? Tons of CO2 every day for last 20 years.