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The Yellowstone flood was a historic disaster. Climate change means it won’t be the last.


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It was the park’s most violent flood in at least a century. A disaster that eclipsed any flood there since modern record-keeping began. A confluence of worst-case scenarios so unlikely that they’ve occurred together as infrequently as once every thousand years.

The next historic flood event in Yellowstone National Park is probably less than a millennium away.

If, until a few decades ago, it had a 0.1% chance of happening during any given year, those odds are higher now — maybe 0.2%, or 0.5%, or 1%. Whatever the number, it still isn’t high. But climate change is pushing it higher.

“There’s been floods throughout history,” said Cathy Whitlock, a paleoecology professor at Montana State University. “They’re natural. They recur. And so it’s difficult to take any one and describe it to long-term climate change. But nonetheless, this type of flood is well-predicted by climate change, and quite likely to happen again in the future.”

Whitlock co-authored the G reater Yellowstone Climate Assessment , an analysis published last year of the myriad ways that rising global temperatures will reshape the roughly 34,000-square-mile ecosystem, including the 3,472-square-mile national park. Employee housing near the Yellowstone River crumbles into the stream as floodwaters […]

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