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Yosemite National Park Reopens After Devastating Wind Storm Topples Sequoias


Yosemite National Park finally reopened on Monday, nearly two weeks after it closed in the wake of what conservationists said was the most devastating storm there in more than 20 years.

But visitors will not be able to walk through Mariposa Grove, home to hundreds of giant sequoia trees iconic for their massive size and extraordinary life span.

Fifteen sequoia trees in the grove and hundreds of other trees in the park were toppled by the high-wind event on Jan. 19, according to Frank Dean, the president of Yosemite Conservancy, a nonprofit that focuses on conservation efforts within the park. One of the trees that fell was a monarch, meaning that it was most likely at least 1,000 years old.

“They’ve just endured it all,” Mr. Dean said. “They’ve been here since when Columbus came and before Christ.” (The park’s oldest sequoia is estimated to have taken root in 200 A.D.)

Mr. Dean noted that the trees had dwindled in numbers in recent years, threatened by wildfires, drought and bark beetles. He called the ones that were knocked down “really a huge loss to the park and to everyone.”

The park is potentially facing millions of dollars in repair costs after the storm caused extensive damage to it, including a Boardwalk in the grove, vehicles and park facilities.

Mr. Dean said on Monday that the Jan. 19 event was “the most significant storm the park has had since the 1997 flood,” which caused more than $200 million in damage.

The storm, known as a Mono high-wind-event, had winds up to 110 miles per hour, according to the National Weather Service, ravaging the park and surrounding counties.

Though these high-wind events are not uncommon in the Sierra Nevada, this one was particularly severe, Andy Bollenbacher, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service, said, calling it a “one in 10-year event.” He said that the last high wind event of this magnitude happened in 2011.

“What happens with these events is you have really strong winds aloft a jet stream, and it’ll come in at a direction that is favorable for down-sloping winds,” Mr. Bollenbacher said. “What that does is it allows the winds to travel down slope through canyons and passes and really accelerate.”

Cleanup efforts in Yosemite were hampered by a subsequent snowstorm that hit the region last week.

Miles Menetrey, a member of the Mariposa County Board of Supervisors, said the two storms back to back were like a “big second punch in the gut” to people still struggling to assess the damage caused by the wind storm.

His county, which also includes Wawona, a private residential holding within the park where homes were damaged, drafted a proclamation of a local disaster that was sent to Gov. Gavin Newsom to try to get money for repairs, Mr. Menetrey said.

Mr. Menetrey said that the damage was unlike what even people who grew up in the county had seen before.

“I don’t know how to really put words to describe what it’s like for, all night long, to hear trees snapping and breaking, and you’re just hoping one doesn’t come crashing through your home,” he said.

And although Yosemite National Park reopened to visitors on Monday, Mariposa Grove remains closed. “There is currently no timeline for when the grove will reopen,” the park said on Twitter.

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