Yosemite's epic snowmelt could spell trouble for national park bracing for spring closure

Water flows forcefully down Bridalveil Fall in Yosemite Valley, with rainbows visible in the mist, as warming temperatures have increased snowpack runoff, on April 27, 2023 in Yosemite National Park, California. Most of Yosemite Valley will close tom

A record snowpack is now shutting down Yosemite National Park twice in the same year.

In February, vast amounts of snow closed roads into the park and made some facilities inaccessible. Now, the meltwater from that same snow is pouring into Yosemite Valley, forcing the park service to close most of the park by Friday night.

The sound of flowing water is an extraordinary time for Yosemite National Park.

"It’s been an unusual year," park ranger Scott Gediman said.

Some areas surrounding Yosemite got nearly two and a half times the average amount of snow this winter in one of the largest snowpacks on record for the national park.

Temperatures will likely reach their highest levels of the season this week as a ridge of high pressure strengthens along the West Coast. In Sacramento, California, highs are expected in the lower 90s through Saturday. Yosemite Falls is expected to reach around 70 degrees Friday and Saturday. As warmer weather returns, water from the melting snow is now everywhere, triggering water levels to rise in the Merced River. 

"We’re seeing waterfalls that I’ve never seen before," Gediman said.

Snowmelt thunders down Yosemite cliffs

Flood Watches are in effect and lasting into at least the start of May for much of the Sierra Nevada as temperatures zoom about 10 to 20 degrees above average. The areas of Reno, Tahoe, Yosemite Valley, Yosemite National Park outside the valley and Mammoth Lakes – all areas with plenty of winter snowfall – are included in the watch.

According to the National Park Service, the snowpack in the watershed around Yosemite Valley is releasing 239 billion gallons of water.

In the lower Yosemite Falls, visitors can really feel the power of all the water as the snowmelt thunders down the cliffs. The spray whips them in the face, and they feel as if they are standing in the midst of a rainstorm.

"It’s one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences that you get to see very rarely," Yosemite visitor Elisey Shaltanov said. "You know, it’s beautiful."

While beautiful, this year’s epic snowmelt and the high water on the Merced River could spell trouble for the park.


"Depending on how high the water gets, we’ll start to have water infiltrate buildings. We’ll have it in campgrounds," Gediman said.

National park officials say most of Yosemite Valley will likely stay closed through Wednesday.

RELATED: Crazy photos at Yosemite National Park show snow up to rooftops, blocking doorway

"It depends on how much water is coming, how quickly it comes in and how long it stays," Gediman said. "We will always err on the side of safety for the park employees and the park visitors."

As the epic surge of water slowly sculpts rock and carves new streams in this wild gem of a park set high in the Sierra Nevada mountain range, it breathes life into the valley as time flows on. Because in Yosemite, the only constant is change.

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