Deep in Death Valley, a Sprawling Lake Takes Form

Badwater Basin on February 12, 2024.

Badwater Basin on February 12, 2024. NASA

Repeated bouts of heavy rain have filled Badwater Basin in Death Valley, the driest spot in North America.

The lake first formed in August after Hurricane Hilary pounded the California desert, and while water levels dropped through the fall, an early February downpour filled the lake once again. Satellite imagery from NASA captured the basin before the hurricane and after, and again following the recent rainstorm.

Satellite images of Badwater Basin.

Satellite images of Badwater Basin. NASA

“Most of us thought the lake would be gone by October,” said Abby Wine, a ranger in Death Valley National Park. “We were shocked to see it still here after almost six months. This week’s rain will extend how long the lake is here.”

Water gathering in the basin typically evaporates faster than it can be replenished, leaving the lakebed dry. But together, Hurricane Hilary and the recent storm delivered 3.7 inches of rain, roughly twice as much as the region typically sees in a year, keeping the lake alive. Death Valley, site of the hottest temperature ever recorded, is expected to see more frequent and intense rainfall as the planet warms.

Satellite images show the lake is roughly as large as it was in August, measuring up to 7 miles long and 4 miles wide. But with the basin being so broad and flat, the water is only about a foot deep. Said Wine, “It’s too shallow to kayak in, but it makes amazing reflections of the mountains.”


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