A strong atmospheric river that was expected to move into Northern California Thursday night and last through Sunday morning prompted the National Park Service to close Yosemite Valley at 5 p.m. today.

The National Weather Service is predicting the Merced River will swell above its flood stage of 10 feet after midnight Saturday and reach a peak of 15 feet by noon the same day.

All overnight and day visitors in Yosemite Valley will be asked to leave by 5 p.m. Reservations for campgrounds and lodging this evening through Saturday evening in the most popular section of the park have been cancelled, the NPS stated in an announcement released late Thursday afternoon.

Campgrounds in Wawona, Hodgen Meadow, Crane Flat and El Portal, as well as the Big Trees Lodge, El Portal Market and El Portal gas station, are anticipated to remain open as of Thursday afternoon.

The service noted that roadways and park facilities may close at any time for visitor and employee safety.

YARTS buses will be on their regular schedule, but all service to the valley will be suspended on Saturday and Sunday. Visitors who arrived to the valley via the transit system are encouraged to leave on Friday.

Visitors planning to travel to Yosemite National Park this weekend are also encouraged by the NPS to make alternate plans, as the entire Central Sierra Nevada is expected to see significant impacts from the storm.

Tuolumne County is predicted to receive about 2 to 3 inches of rain between Thursday evening and Sunday morning. The storm is expected to bring less rain than the storm on March 22, but county officials warn that it still has potential to cause flooding, mudslides, downed trees and widespread power outages.

Duke York, Tuolumne County Community Resources Agency deputy director for roads, said the storm will likely melt the snow in the high country and that, coupled with rain, will bring the biggest impact to areas downstream.

He said his crews have been working much of the week to minimize the damage in areas already suffering from the deluge a few weeks ago.

Millions of dollars in damage was caused by the storm on March 22 that dropped as much as 4 inches of rain in a short period of time.

The county Office of Emergency Services has made sand available at: The Tuolumne Road Yard at 18870 Birch St. in Tuolumne, Tuolumne City Fire Department, Jamestown Road Yard at 18188 Seventh Avenue in Jamestown, Big Oak Flat/Groveland Road Yard at 11240 Wards Ferry Road, and Columbia Airport at 10723 Airport Road.

Residents need to bring their own bags and shovels.

Due to a high level of tree mortality in the county, people are encouraged to be aware of their surroundings and watch for falling limbs, woody debris and falling trees.

Dodge Ridge Ski Area near Pinecrest also announced that its 2017-18 had come to an end Thursday afternoon, after receiving 12 feet of snow from storms during the month of March.

Contact Alex MacLean at amaclean@uniondemocrat.com or (209) 588-4530.



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