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Death Valley Is Now Exploding With Color Thanks to a Freak October Storm

ByConor GearinNOVA NextNOVA Next

For a brief window of time, Death Valley is full of life.

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A storm last fall led to a so-called super bloom in the valley, with over 20 species of plants putting up their spring colors this week.

The desert gold flower gives most of the national park a yellow hue, but there are many others in the mix—brown eyed evening primrose, desert five-spot, and purple mat, to name a few.

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Flowers bring color today to Death Valley.

The hardy desert plants store up the necessary water for flowers, then quickly bloom while they have the resources and the weather is relatively cool. That window doesn’t last for long—by June, the average temperature is a searing 110˚ F.

Here’s Tatiana Schlossberg reporting for the New York Times:

The park gets about two inches of rain annually, so it always sees some wildflowers, though not as many or as varied. But it doesn’t take much more rain than that to completely dye the desert, [Death Valley National Park spokeswoman Abby] Wines said, making last fall’s unusually heavy rains particularly effective.

Last’s year’s El Niño led to the conditions for this spring’s show. In October, a storm dumped 2.7 inches of rain on Death Valley, half an inch more than the national park usually gets in a year. The resulting flash flood swept through Grapevine Canyon and damaged Scotty’s Castle, a popular park attraction. The 1930s mansion is closed for the next year.

The extra rain is a reminder that the climate in Death Valley is changing. Yearly rainfall has been on the rise over the past 50 years, according to the National Park Service . The wettest growing season on record so far was 2004-2005. That season’s astounding 6.44 inches of rain led to the last super bloom.

Some of the plants, including brown-eyed evening primrose and desert gold, are already beginning to lose their flowers and produce seeds, the National Parks Service reports . Daily high temperatures are starting to reach 90˚ F. But rain showers can save the flowers from an early death.

What’s more, most of the park still has yet to bloom. Flowers on higher elevations in the park haven’t opened yet—there’s still snow on the mountains. To see a patch that’s just coming into spring, the park recommends taking Greenwater Road. But the flowers in the deepest valley will lose their petals by April.

For more on the wildlife in the hottest spot on the continent, check out this Nature episode, “ Life in Death Valley .”

Photo credit: Marc Cooper on Flickr (BY-SA)

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