R udy Bala and Raja Ram expected to spend a long weekend in Yosemite, one of their stops on a road trip to California from their home in Arlington, Texas.
But Friday afternoon, after one day at Cedar Lodge, they and hundreds like them were on their way out, fleeing a significant storm predicted to bring heavy rains to the Central Sierra and flooding to the Merced River.
The National Park Service closed Yosemite Valley as of 5 p.m. Friday out of concern for public safety.
Bala, 25, and Ram, also 25, said they would press on to San Francisco instead.
Jerry Murphy, 53, who came to Yosemite from San Francisco with his sons, Ben, 14, and Finn, 9, said, “This is a great disappointment to have to leave now.”
He said they stayed at Fish Camp, just outside the park, and intended to ski at Badger Pass, which was closed, and then found out Thursday night their entire trip would be cut short. Friday afternoon they stopped near the base of Lower Yosemite Fall before heading out.
“It’s going to be a year before we can come back and camp,” Murphy said.
Gray cloud cover blanketed Yosemite Valley by 4:25 p.m. as a line of vehicles headed west toward park exits.
An atmospheric river storm bearing tropical moisture is forecast to bring up to 10 inches of rain to Yosemite Valley today through Monday, and flood forecasts show the Merced River could crest Sunday at more than 16 feet, at least 6 feet above flood stage.
That kind of flooding can put most valley roads under water, Jamie Richards of the National Park Service said Friday in Yosemite Valley. There is also concern for some campgrounds, employee residences and other park infrastructure at lower elevations.
There were hundreds of people in Yosemite Valley as of Friday afternoon. It was unclear how many visitors and lodging guests would have to leave.
Yosemite Hospitality, the Aramark concessioner that employs hundreds of people who work in Yosemite Valley, posted an emergency announcement Thursday evening stating that in order to protect park utilities in the flood zone, the Park Service intended to turn off all water and sewer to Housekeeping Camp and the Half Dome Village area, including the Stables, Huff, Cook’s and the New Housing areas.
All services in Half Dome Village, including the Wellness Center, the Community Center and the Carabiner Café, were to be closed, according to Yosemite Hospitality. All employee recreation areas were closed as of Thursday night.
“Due to the lack of sewer and water in the Half Dome Village area, NPS has mandated that all associates living in housing in the Stables, Huff house, Cook’s WOBs and HD New Housing will have to vacate their housing from Friday, Jan. 6 at 5 p.m. until the sewer is restored after the storm.”
Yosemite Hospitality urged residents of Huff, Half Dome RA, Cook’s and Stables to leave the park if possible and “find accommodations in one of our gateway towns for the weekend.”
As of 2 p.m. Friday, a Yosemite Hospitality employee meeting was underway in the Human Resources Atrium room in Yosemite Village. A Union Democrat reporter identified himself as a reporter and was asked to leave.
An unspecified number of essential park personnel were planning to stay in Yosemite Valley through the storm, Richards said. They include law enforcement, emergency medical services, and maintenance, facility and utility workers.
“As far as visitors, all visitors will be asked and instructed to leave the valley,” Richards said. “We are anticipating there will be visitors who refuse to leave or cannot leave due to vehicle problems. We will have shuttles and other vehicles on standby in the event any stragglers need to be transported out of the valley.”
If the Merced River does rise to 16 feet or higher, multiple meadows and sections of valley roads will be inundated, including Cook’s Meadow, El Cap Meadow, Swinging Bridge and potentially Pohono Bridge, which is just downstream from the vital stream gauge that helps authorities monitor river conditions.
Richards said Yosemite Valley Lodge and other locations that are not considered flood-prone will be used to make room for employees whose residences may be impacted by the approaching storm and floods.
A spokeswoman for Yosemite Hospitality and Aramark in Yosemite Valley referred questions about the situation at Yosemite Valley Lodge and other questions to another Aramark spokesman outside the park.
Richards said that while Yosemite Valley will be closed for the duration of the incoming weather system, parts of Yosemite National Park will likely remain open, including the Merced and Tuolumne sequoia groves. Visitors may also be able to access Tioga Road for snowshoeing. The Hetch Hetchy Road will also remain open, providing access to Hetch Hetchy Reservoir and trails in that area.