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Yosemite closes due to monster blizzard, ‘life threatening’ conditions in California mountains

A view of El Capitan, Half Dome and Bridalveil Fall in Yosemite National Park
El Capitan, Half Dome and Bridalveil Fall are visible from Tunnel View in Yosemite National Park in December 2021.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)
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With an epic blizzard bearing down on the Sierra, Yosemite National Park said it was closing through at least noon Sunday because of the storm.

“Visitors currently in the park should leave as soon as possible, and no later than noon” Friday, the park said. Several feet of snow is expected at Yosemite, and very strong winds are expected.

Some 6 to 12 inches of snow could fall in Yosemite Valley — the most popular part of Yosemite National Park, the National Weather Service office in Hanford said. A winter storm warning will take effect there between Saturday morning through Sunday morning.

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A more intense blizzard warning was already in effect for the rest of Yosemite National Park outside of Yosemite Valley, which will last through Sunday morning.

Some 2 to 3 feet of snow could fall at the Big Oak Flat entrance to Yosemite National Park along Highway 120, a route often taken by travelers from the San Francisco Bay Area.

Along Highway 41, a route to the park often taken by those from Fresno and Southern California, 3 to 5 feet of snow could fall at the entrance to the park, around Mariposa Grove. At the historic Victorian-era Wawona Hotel, 3 to 6 feet of snow could fall.

The closure of Yosemite National Park comes as officials are urging people to avoid travel in mountain areas from Lake Tahoe to Mammoth and beyond because of intense storms packing strong winds.

Weather warnings

The National Weather Service issued a blizzard warning over a wide swath of the Sierra Nevada, from Lassen Volcanic National Park in Shasta County to Kings Canyon National Park in Fresno County. The blizzard warning began Thursday and will be in effect through Sunday; the worst of the storm was expected between Friday afternoon and midday Saturday.

“For Sierra locations, don’t get caught up in the ‘worst conditions’ time frame. It is going to be really bad throughout the entire event!” the weather service office in Reno warned. “Winds ... will remain strong enough to produce near-zero visibility in the Sierra and the foothills.”

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The blizzard is already bringing 100- to 110-mph gusts at the highest elevations, with conditions expected to deteriorate dramatically by Friday night.

Up to 12 feet of snow could fall on the highest peaks of the Sierra Nevada from Thursday through Sunday, the National Weather Service office in Sacramento said. Other areas with an elevation of 5,000 feet above sea level could get 5 to 10 feet of snow.

Travel alerts

  • The main route between Southern California and Mammoth Mountain, Highway 395, could see 1 to 3 feet of snow, with gusts of up to 75 mph in lower-elevation areas. On Thursday afternoon, the Mammoth area was already seeing gusts of 60 mph.
  • The highest stretches of the main roads to Lake Tahoe from the San Francisco Bay Area — Interstate 80 and Highway 50 — could see upward of 8 to 10 feet of snow. Interstate 5 in Siskiyou County, near the Oregon border, could see more than 1 foot of snow
  • The weather service office in Eureka warned of snow on all roads 1,000 feet above sea level from Thursday through Saturday.
  • Highway 101 at Ridgewood Summit in Mendocino County could get half a foot of snow. And Highway 101 at Prairie Creek Summit in Humboldt County could get 1 to 1.5 feet.
  • Hail could strike coastal roads in Humboldt and Del Norte counties Friday and Saturday, and linger, forecasters said. “Ease off the gas if you suddenly find yourself on a hail-covered roadway,” the weather service said. “Do not slam on the brakes. Avoid overcorrecting.”
  • There’s a chance of up to 1 inch of snow on the Grapevine section of Interstate 5, which connects Los Angeles County with the Central Valley through the Tejon Pass. Snow is also possible on Highway 58 over the Tehachapi Pass, which connects Bakersfield with the Mojave Desert.
  • In the mountains of San Diego, Riverside and San Bernardino counties, there could be 3 to 7 inches of snow at areas 7,000 feet above sea level, and 1 to 3 inches at areas between 6,000 and 7,000 feet.
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