National Parks and Severe Weather

At this point in midsummer, it is hard NOT to have the outdoor bug, and many of us in the U.S. will head to our National Parks to enjoy the outdoors in a variety of ways. Did you know that Yellowstone was the first National Park, established in 1872? President Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909) is possibly the most well-known supporter of the development of the National Park System; during his terms in office, the number of National Parks doubled. The legislation known as the Antiquities Act, which he signed into law, gave him and future presidents the ability to declare historic landmarks and national monuments, many of which are part of the National Park System today. At our wide array of National Parks, Seashores, Reserves, Battlefields, Monuments, and Historic Sites, visitors can learn about the history and culture of our country, as well as enjoy and appreciate the huge variety of climates and beautiful scenery that exist in the United States.

Canyonlands National Park. Credit: NPS/Neal Herbert.

The National Park Service was officially created as part of the Department of the Interior in August of 1916 and is tasked with maintaining the 419 ‘units’ that make up the National Park System. As part of that job description, one role the NPS plays is to ensure the safety of its visitors and employees. When hazardous weather occurs, the NPS coordinates with other government agencies, including FEMA and the National Weather Service, to keep the public informed.

Winter storm in progress with snow and clouds inside Grand Canyon and snow covering trees. Photo taken along the Canyon Rim Trail near Grandeur Point. Credit: NPS/Clayton Hanson.

The NPS regularly issues park alerts when weather or any other hazards may affect park visitors. Most recently, many parks in the eastern half of the U.S. were under excessive heat warnings and visitors were advised to take appropriate precautions and pay attention to weather conditions. So, let’s look at some of the recent weather events which have impacted National Parks…

(2013) Bighorn rams on tundra near Trail Ridge Rd. Credit: NPS.

Hurricane Michael (October 2018) devastated parts of the Florida panhandle and created widespread impacts across portions of the Southeast.

Roads at Gulf Islands National Seashore after Hurricane Michael (2018). Credit: NPS.

Just one month earlier, Hurricane Florence brought catastrophic flooding to parts of the Carolinas, and many NPS sites in that area experienced temporary closures during and after the storm.

Moores Creek National Battlefield (NC) after Hurricane Florence. Credit: NPS.

In the wake of Florence (and other events), the NPS issued regular updates to inform the public of how the cleanup was progressing.

In 2017, Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria had tremendous impacts on many residents, but also impacted many sites in the NPS system. Sites from the Gulf Coast to the Florida Keys and points north all experienced damaging winds, rain, and storm surge effects as a result of the historic 2017 hurricane season (which we will revisit in a future post!).


An NPS diver assesses damaged Elkhorn Coral at Biscayne Bay National Park after Hurricane Irma. Credit: NPS.

In April of 2018, Yosemite National Park was hit with extreme rainfall that resulted in historic flooding and a temporary closure of the park. Officials needed to close the park in order to clear water and debris from roadways as well as conduct repairs as needed.


Courtesy: Fresno Bee.

Just like campgrounds, state parks, lakes, stadiums, ballparks, and the many other spots where people enjoy outdoor activities, the National Parks and NPS sites are also vulnerable to hazardous weather. Be sure to stay informed by visiting the NPS website for the particular park you plan to visit, as well as the National Weather Service, to stay informed of alerts and potentially hazardous weather. Follow all of the usual outdoor safety and preparedness precautions, and enjoy the great beauty and history of our NPS system during this summer season!

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