California Sierra Nevada > Sidebars > The New Year’s Day Flood

The New Year’s Day Flood

An unusual winter tropical storm began dumping rain on California in late December 1996, and the rain kept coming until the third day of January. More than 10 inches of rain fell at elevations above 8,000 feet, melting a thick snowpack in Yosemite National Park. By the time the rain stopped, the Merced River had risen 10 feet above its banks, inundating Yosemite Valley and ripping out roads, sewer lines, and campgrounds. It was the largest flood in more than 80 years, causing more than $175 million damage to lodge units, roads, and other developments. The park was closed for more than three months. People were stranded in the valley for days, and many worried about the park’s tourist season for 1997. But the flood helped the ecosystem, spreading rich sediment for vegetation and moving boulders downstream, where they were pulverized into gravel for fish habitat.

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