YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK (CBS SF) – After a rare weekend closure, Yosemite National Park rangers announced Monday that the famed tourist destination will re-open this week, allowing visitors to catch a glimpse of the thunderous display being put on by the park’s famous falls.
Over the weekend, a potent winter storm forced rangers to shut down access to the park. Heavy rains drove the Merced River over its banks, but the flooding fell short of the level that would keep the park closed.
However, officials said the park will be open only to day visitors on Tuesday. Full services will be back underway on Wednesday.
Travel within the park will be impacted by high water and also rock slides that have closed El Portal and Hetch Hetchy roads.
Officials said the Merced River reached flood stage at the Pohono Bridge on Sunday night and peaked at 12.7 feet at 4 a.m. Monday.
Once inside the park, visitors will be able to take in an awesome display of Mother Nature’s power as the park’s signature falls have roared to life after the heavy rains.
Access to the park was closed on Friday after officials became concerned that the torrential downpours predicted with the incoming weather front would trigger flooding similar to 1997.
“So we ended up cresting at 10,500 cubic feet per second,” said hydrologist Katherine Fong. “So that puts us just above a 10-year flood.”
Fong is one of several hydrologists faced with the wildly complex task of predicting the behavior of a river being fed from every direction.
She said the lack of real damage following this 10-year flood is no accident.
“The 1997 flood — which is kind of our flood of record — re-wrote the map in Yosemite Valley in terms of where infrastructure is,” explained Fong.
By the middle of the afternoon, the Merced was already dropping back to flood stage. As impressive as the river had been the past two days, the real show was all around you on the valley walls.
“All the waterfalls — Yosemite and Bridal Veil — they were the biggest I’ve ever seen them, said Fong. The biggest that some people who have been here 20 years have ever seen.”
And not just the waterfalls most visitors know by name. There was water falling pretty much everywhere you looked, pouring over granite cliff sides, and crashing to the valley below.
In the end, it was hardly the storm some were dreading here. And it puts some real perspective on just how dramatic the floods of 1997 really were.
In January of 1997 severe storms turned Yosemite Valley into a lake and the Merced burst its banks.
However, hydrologists were able to stem the threat of last weekend’s storm by releasing water from reservoirs to make room for what could be massive runoff from the mountains.
The only people who were left in the park over the weekend were essential staff needed to manage whatever problems emerged.
The downside was that the last two days felt a lot like a Yosemite classic, only there was virtually nobody around to see it.