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Yosemite can’t seem to catch a break. After shuttering due to Covid and choking air pollution from wildfires in 2020, he park is closing once again due to fierce winds and an influx of wintery weather.
As of now, the earliest that visitors can expect to return to Yosemite’s granite cliffs and lush sequoia groves is Monday, February 1. Originally, park officials planned on opening the gates again this week after Yosemite had time to deal with the effects of a Mono wind event on January 18 that knocked down trees and damaged walkways and buildings. But on Tuesday, a winter storm hit the area, dumping more than 18 inches of wet, heavy snow and delaying the opening further.
According to Jim Dudley of the National Weather Service, while Mono wind events—heavy gusts that blow westward across the central Sierra Nevada—happen once or twice a year, this was “probably the strongest one since 2011,” with gusts often surpassing 80 miles per hour.
Scott Gediman, Yosemite’s spokesman, said that the resulting damage was historic. As rangers make their way through the wreckage, they’re discovering precariously-balanced tree limbs, battered-in roofs, and beaten down walkways and parking areas. All told, the winds toppled 15 of the park’s approximately 500 giant sequoias; Gediman says he doesn’t know of a time in the park’s century-and-a-half long history when a storm knocked over more. The park estimates the cost of the damages at roughly $200 million.
While rangers and crews of volunteers have done an “amazing job” mitigating the damage, the added impact of the snow makes things more dangerous. Throughout the park, tree limbs that were left weakened by gusts are now being weighed down by snow, and they’re falling. No matter how clear Yosemite’s grounds are, it won’t be safe for the park to open until there’s no risk of death from above. Barring another setback, Yosemite is set to reopen on Monday, February 1. Visitors will be able to enter the park using El Portal Road (Highway 140), Big Oak Flat Road (Highway 120 from the west), and Hetch Hetchy Road. Areas south of Yosemite Valley (including Badger Pass, Wawona, Mariposa Grove, South Entrance, and Wawona Road) will remain closed until further notice.