Yosemite National Park closed amid record snowfall
Yosemite National Park, an iconic symbol of American wilderness, has seen plenty of snow in its 133-year history. But the snowdrifts piling up there this week have been extreme, and they’ve kept the park closed for five plus days.
The storms that hit the region over the past week coincided with unusually cold weather, bringing precipitation as snow rather than rain to Yosemite Valley.
“One after another they just kept coming,” said Jim Bagnall, a weather service forecaster in Hanford, Calif.
A sign of extreme weather, the Yosemite Valley floor recorded 40 inches of snowfall on Tuesday, beating the 36 inches recorded on the same day in 1969.
The valley, approximately seven miles long, sits at an elevation of nearly 4,000 feet. Bagnall said his deepest snow depth – 60 inches – was in 1907, a year after snowpack records began.
Yosemite National Park was closed last week and was due to reopen on Thursday. But Wednesday evening, park officials had postponed this reopening date and had not set a new one. Snowdrifts were up to 15 feet deep in some areas and crews were working to restore essential services.
In the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, the mountain range that contains Yosemite, roads have also been closed in recent days, hampering residents of communities like Oakhurst and Mariposa, Bagnall said.
The National Park Service did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday evening.
The record amount of snowfall in Yosemite is the latest extreme precipitation to hit California this winter – downpours that have led to repeated bouts of flooding, power outages and evacuations.
Among the weather records set in the process: Los Angeles International Airport received a record amount of rain and Los Angeles County issued its first blizzard warning since Feb. 4, 1989.
As of Wednesday evening, more than 18 million people in a large north-south swath of California were under a frost warning. And more snow was forecast for the weekend, including up to two feet in the Yosemite area.
Some popular roads and hiking routes had previously been closed due to snow or ice – including portions of the John Muir Trail, which is named after a monumental figure in American environmentalism, whose writings and advocacy inspired Congress to establish the park in 1890.
Muir himself was no stranger to snow. During a 1903 camping trip to the park with President Theodore Roosevelt, five inches fell off and the commander-in-chief “got up to flake white on his blankets,” according to the National Park Service.
Decades earlier, Muir had written eloquently of the snow that fell with “relentless profligacy” on one of his trips to Mount Shasta in Northern California.
“Its development has been gentle in the extreme – the deliberate growth of cumulus clouds below, the weaving of translucent fabrics above, then the roar of the wind, the crash of thunder, and the clouded flight of snow flowers,” writes- there in 1877.
“Its decadence was no less sudden – the clouds broke and vanished, not a snowflake was left in the sky, and the stars shone with pure, tranquil brilliance.”
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