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Kayaking at Badwater Basin on February 9, 2024.

The view from a kayak on Death Valley’s temporary lake, on 9 February 2024

Michael Kohler/NPS

California has experienced heavy rainfall in recent weeks, resulting in the remarkable formation of a rare, temporary lake in Death Valley – the driest place in the US.

Record-breaking levels of rain have drenched California over the past month. A number of atmospheric river storms – narrow strips of intensely concentrated moisture in the air – have exacerbated the wet conditions, leaving up to 37 million people at risk of flooding.

The severe precipitation has also hit Death Valley National Park, which sits along the border of California and Nevada. In fact, so much rain has fallen that the park’s Badwater basin, which is usually a dry salt flat, has been temporarily transformed into a shallow lake.

At 86 metres below sea level, the basin is the lowest point of elevation in North America and was, tens of thousands of years ago, the site of an ancient body of water that researchers have named Lake Manly.

Over recent decades, the lake has been refilled a handful of times. In August 2023, rainfall associated with Hurricane Hilary formed a lake 11.3 kilometres long and 0.6 metres deep, which then shrunk over the next several months. Now, it has been refilled once again. In its present form, the lake measures nearly 10 kilometres at its longest and is around 0.3 metres deep.

Last year, Death Valley National Park was closed for several weeks after Hurricane Hilary because its road network was damaged by floods, limiting the opportunity for visitors to explore the temporary lake. This time, the park is open, and the reemergence of Lake Manly has attracted tourists, including swimmers and even kayakers.

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