Death Valley National Park Floods Take Out Chicken Strip


Flooded airports are nothing new but volunteers are being sought to fix up a runway in a seemingly unlikely place to see flooding. Saline Valley Warm Springs Airfield, better known as the Chicken Strip, in California’s Death Valley National Park has been closed after flooding cut deep ruts in the gravel runway. In a three-hour period on Aug. 5, a little less than two inches of rain fell. The area is the driest in the country and gets only about three inches of rain a year.

The deluge, described as a once-in-1,000-year event, filled the flat valley bottoms in the park and water roared over the 1,400-foot strip, which is actually northwest of Death Valley proper. “We are working with the park on organizing a work party,” Katerina Barilova, who’s a member of several backcountry flying groups, said in a Facebook post. “I will announce the date once we have it for anyone interested in volunteering.” It’s the second time in just over five years that flooding has closed the strip. Volunteers fixed it in 2016, too.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.

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    • Everything is global warming or racist or extreme.
      Hopefully no one takes any of that subterfuge seriously.

  1. Wait, what? I thought man-made global warming was causing droughts? Or was it a new ice age? Or rising seas? No, wait, it was a larger hole in the ozone layer? And those killer bees coming up from Mexico. eVTOLs are the answer!

    • That’s actually a common misconception, because it has never been “global warming”. That was a media creation. It has always been “global climate change”. On a global average, temperatures rise, but it is actually expected that some areas will get colder. And as you may remember from private pilot school, warmer air can hold more moisture, so it makes sense that some areas will see increased rainfall.

      Also, the ozone hole never had anything directly to do with climate change. That was always a result of CFCs degrading the ozone layer.

    • Well, if “The deluge, described as a once-in-1,000-year event” then let’s blame the Indians for the previous one.

  2. After dealing with the scramble and chaos from two expert-ordained “hundred-year floods” – occurring in consecutive years – I have to believe Mother Nature pays no attention to human attempts to predict the future by applying trends of the past. “Once in 1000 years” vs. “If you don’t like the weather, wait 20 minutes.”

    • So called “hundred-year floods” is just another way to say “1% chance per year”. It does not mean the flood only happens once every hundred years.

      It’s just like flipping a coin. “1 out of 2” or “50%” doesn’t mean that every other flip is always heads. In fact, if you flip a coin a hundred times it’s highly likely you’ll get a run of six heads in a row.

      This is a favorite trick of statistics classes. The professor will assign a homework assignment – half the class will flip a coin 100 times and record the results. The other half will just write down ‘heads’ or ‘tails’ randomly. The next day the prof can tell which is a real list just by looking for a long run of heads or tails. Because people using ‘common sense’ will never write down six heads or tails in a row because ‘common sense’ says that’s not random.

      Unfortunately, people also use ‘common sense’ to misconstrue what experts mean when they talk about a ‘hundred-year’ flood.

      • If you have two ‘hundred year floods’ in a row it is pretty unlikely to actually be a <1% per year event. A statistician could use bayes' theorem or some of the binomial distribution equations to get a better estimate.

  3. Ignorance and pushing an agenda are strong in this comment section. Russ Niles did not make any mention of “Global Warming” or similar. He did write an excellent and factual article about a weather event damaging a general aviation airstrip. Thank you Russ!

    • Actually Mark did provide with some insight in a respectful way. You on the other-hand provided no insight, just boring rants.

  4. Katerina Barilova and the many other volunteers of the various back-country airstrip support groups deserve a big thank you for their efforts in keeping these strips open. In addition to physical upkeep needs many of the strips must be defended against constant attack by anti-aviation forces dedicated to finding ways to close them.

    Right now, you may be one of the vast majority of pilots who don’t use nor even think about these out of the way strips, but our pilot population is aging, and more & more pilots are coming up against barriers like the insurance industry’s “80 and out” rule. You just may find yourself flying something that loves taking you into these somewhat more exotic spots.

  5. FYI
    when the earth was totally covered by Ice, the temperature was only 8 degrees colder so 1 degree of warming really makes a difference.

  6. In 1999, we were on an “adventure flight” to South America with our Cessna Caravan. Since all of the bases in Antarctica are “research bases”, we picked Argentina’s Base Marambio, as it is the closest to South America. They would be glad to host us for several days–PROVIDED that we freighted in supplies for the base–a fair trade.

    The research done by the Argentine scientists was study of the “Ozone Hole”–a popular topic at the time. Their ground and atmospheric research was supplemented by observations by a U.S. sattelite system. The “Readers Digest” version of their findings
    1. Sunlight is a major factor in the production and remission of the Ozone Hole.
    2. As is cold weather
    3. As is strong winds
    You don’t hear much about “Man-caused Ozone Hole any more. Perhaps the best summation (in English) is by the Brits

    • Thanks for that link. It does a good job of explaining how the reduction of CFCs and other ozone-depleting compounds are actually having a positive effect. The prediction is that the ozone hole will be back to natural levels by late this century.

  7. This type of flash flooding is quite common in desert regions in the western US. Even a small amount of rain can cause a flood because the hard soil cannot easily absorb the moisture. And, the water can run for miles down dry washes before it finally soaks in. Also, Kirk’s explanation on event probabilities is spot on. The Houston area in Texas has experienced four 100+ year weather events in the past 15 years.

  8. It’s about time that they stop using this “1000-year flood” terminology. All of those norms are out the window as weather patterns change with the warming climate.

    Russ even notes that the strip was washed out five years ago. Now, whether that was another “1,000-year” flood or not, it certainly doesn’t seem to be as unlikely as that term implies. At least not anymore.

    • Perhaps, since we don’t have 1000 years of accurate written records to go on, those storms are more likely than we thought.