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Meteorological Conditions at Racetrack Playa, Death Valley National Park: Implications for Rock Production and Transport
Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology (2011)
  • Ralph D. Lorenz, Johns Hopkins University
  • Brian K. Jackson
  • Jason W. Barnes, University of Idaho
  • Joseph N. Spitale
  • Jani Radebaugh, Brigham Young University
  • Kevin H. Baines
Three decades of weather records at meteorological stations near Death Valley National Park are analyzed in an attempt to gauge the frequency of conditions that might form and erase the famous trails of wind-blown rocks in the mud of Racetrack Playa. Trail formation requires the playa to be wet, followed by strong winds and/or freezing conditions. Weather records are compared with a limited set of meteorological data that were acquired in situ at the playa over three winters and that indicate freezing on 50, 29, and 15 nights during the winters of 2007/08–09/10, respectively, as well as with the hydrological condition of the playa as determined by time-lapse cameras that observed flooding over ~1, ~5, and ~40 days, respectively, during those winters. Measurements at the nearby Panamint and Hunter Mountain stations are found to be a useful, if imperfect (~50%), indicator of Racetrack Playa conditions and give some features of Racetrack Playa’s micrometeorological behavior. Wind speed probability distributions suggest that winds that are fast enough to cause unassisted rock motion are rare and therefore that freezing of water on the playa has a role in a significant fraction of movement events.
  • extreme events,
  • freeze events,
  • rainfall,
  • wind gusts,
  • automatic weather stations,
  • atmosphere-land interaction
Publication Date
December, 2011
Publisher Statement
© Copyright 2011, American Meteorological Society (AMS). Permission to use figures, tables, and brief excerpts from this work in scientific and educational works is hereby granted provided that the source is acknowledged. Any use of material in this work that is determined to be "fair use" under Section 107 of the U.S. Copyright Act or that satisfies the conditions specified in Section 108 of the U.S. Copyright Act (17 USC §108, as revised by P.L. 94-553) does not require the AMS’s permission. Republication, systematic reproduction, posting in electronic form, such as on a web site or in a searchable database, or other uses of this material, except as exempted by the above statement, requires written permission or a license from the AMS. Additional details are provided in the AMS Copyright Policy, available on the AMS Web site located at ( or from the AMS at 617-227-2425 or doi: 10.1175/JAMC-D-11-075.1
Citation Information
Ralph D. Lorenz, Brian K. Jackson, Jason W. Barnes, Joseph N. Spitale, et al.. "Meteorological Conditions at Racetrack Playa, Death Valley National Park: Implications for Rock Production and Transport" Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology Vol. 50 Iss. 12 (2011)
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