The central San Joaquin Valley can bid goodbye to the rain that has soaked the region, and say hello to patchy fog and frosty temperatures – at least for a few days. But as the region gets a brief chance to dry out, access to popular Yosemite National Park will be limited with two of the three highways into the park closed for storm damage.
Sunny days and overnight temperatures dipping into the mid-30s will settle in through Saturday before a new set of storms sweeps into the region, said the National Weather Service in Hanford. In places like Shaver Lake, skies will be clear but cold, with nighttime temperatures dipping to around 20 degrees.
Abnormally high water releases from Friant Dam will continue for several more days with a threat of minor flooding along the San Joaquin River, the weather service said.
Highway 41 at Fish Camp is expected to remain closed at least through next week due to a washout, according to Caltrans. And Yosemite National Park said Wednesday that Highway 120 West (Big Oak Flat Road) is closed due to damage caused by recent storms, and may not reopen for several days.
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Under the best scenario, Highway 41 could be repaired enough to allow one-way traffic with delays, said Cory Burkarth, a Caltrans spokesman. The time frame for repairs will depend upon weather conditions.
“More rainwater and snowmelt will be our biggest enemy,” he said.
In the meantime, park staff living on the other side of the closure near Fish Camp will have to travel an extra 90 minutes to get into the park. The closure also affects residents and visitors to the Tenaya Lodge with plans to go into the park, Burkarth said.
“In the interest of public safety, we had to close the road. It’s not a decision we make lightly,” he said. “The fact that we had to close that roadway is a sign of how dangerous the situation is to motorists.”
In Oakhurst, there is concern about the word “closed” being used in reference to Highway 41 near Yosemite National Park, said Rhonda Salisbury, chief executive officer with Visit Yosemite | Madera County, the local visitors bureau.
She said Oakhurst remains on the way to Yosemite via highways 49 and 140.
“People with reservations should stay where they are, and it’s not that much of a travel impact to go into the Yosemite Valley,” Salisbury said of those with lodging plans in Oakhurst.
She said occupancy rates are generally low during this time of year.
“I’d say it’s 25 percent to 40 percent right now compared 80 percent to 90 percent (in the spring),” she said. “If it’s going to hit us, it should hit us now.”
Through much of the summer, the Best Western Yosemite Gateway Inn is 100 percent full, said Sandy Dow, assistant manager of the hotel. But this time of year is the least busy, she said.
Dow said she often recommends that visitors take Highway 49 when it’s snowing.
“It’s been raining and people haven’t been coming up that much anyway,” Dow said. “It’s more important for people to be safe.”
Caltrans also reports that Highway 269 remains closed near Huron due to flooding near Palmer Avenue.
This winter’s above-normal precipitation has not only filled reservoirs to the brim, but pushed the snowpack over the southern Sierra Nevada to 206 percent of normal. By spring, that snowpack is likely to extend the threat of flooding at lower elevations into April or May, the weather service said.
But the wet winter may be starting to taper off. The climate prediction outlook for the three months from March through May favors near average temperatures and precipitation, the weather service said.
Fresno has recorded 12.58 inches of rain since the season began Oct. 1. That’s already an inch above the 11.5-inch average for an entire year. Fresno normally records just 7.19 inches by this time of the year.