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Yosemite valley floods, May 2023 [4096×2731][35mm film][OC]

Yosemite Valley Floods of May 2023: A Devastating Deluge

[Photo: A sweeping view of Yosemite Valley, normally a tranquil scene, now ravaged by flash flooding on May 15, 2023. The Merced River, swollen by heavy rainfall, cuts a serpentine path through the valley floor. (Credit: Unsplash/Graham McArthur)]

May 15, 2023, will be etched in the memory of Yosemite National Park’s visitors and park rangers for years to come. The unrelenting torrent of rain that dumped over 10 inches of rain in just 12 hours, causing unprecedented flash flooding in Yosemite Valley. The effects of the flood are still being felt, as park officials and emergency responders work to mitigate the damage and restore services to the park.

The Lead-Up to the Flood

May 2023 had been marked by unusually warm and dry conditions, setting the stage for a rapid intensification of the monsoon season in California. Forecasters had issued warnings of a significant storm system brewing in the Gulf of Alaska, predicting heavy rain and strong winds as it moved inland. Parks officials in Yosemite, anticipating heavy rainfall, issued a flood watch early on May 15, urging visitors to exercise extreme caution and be prepared to evacuate.

The Flooding Begins

As the storm arrived, the rain poured down on Yosemite Valley, causing the Merced River to swell to life. Waters rose rapidly, spilling over its banks and filling the valley floor. The once crystal-clear waters of the Merced were now a churning, chocolate-colored torrent, carving a path of destruction through the valley.

[Photo: A dramatic photo of the Merced River at peak flow, as it thunders through the valley floor, sweeping away trees, rocks, and debris. (Credit: National Park Service)]

The flooding was especially devastating in areas surrounding the Merced, where water rushed through channels and ravines, washing away hiking trails, roads, and infrastructure. Visitors, caught off guard by the rapid rise in water levels, were forced to seek higher ground, abandoning their plans for hiking and exploring the valley.

Damage and Impact

Initial assessments suggest that the flood has caused over $1 million in damages to park infrastructure, including damaged bridges, roads, and buildings. Several campgrounds and developed areas were inundated, forcing visitors to evacuate or seek alternative accommodations. Ranger stations and essential services were forced to shut down, leaving park employees and visitors stranded.

Worst hit was the Ahwahnee Hotel, a 1927 National Historic Landmark, which suffered significant damage due to water intrusion and structural weaknesses. The hotel, a beloved hub of park activity, was forced to close its doors, leaving over 100 guests in limbo.

Response and Recovery

Emergency responders, backed by teams from the National Park Service, California State Parks, and Caltrans, quickly mobilized to respond to the disaster. Helicopters, airboats, and foot patrols worked tirelessly to rescue stranded visitors and deliver critical supplies to hard-hit areas.

Park officials and the National Park Service have launched an investigation into the cause of the flood, considering factors such as storm intensity, floodplain development, and infrastructure vulnerabilities.

Recovery efforts are underway, as crews work to repair and rebuild affected areas. Park officials are urging visitors to exercise extreme caution when returning to Yosemite Valley, citing hazardous conditions, ongoing road closures, and limited services.


The May 15, 2023, flood in Yosemite Valley serves as a stark reminder of the forces of nature and the importance of preparedness. As park officials and emergency responders continue to respond and recover from the devastating deluge, we are left to marvel at the sheer power and majesty of Yosemite’s natural beauty – and to recommit to respecting and protecting this sacred landscape.

Download image Yosemite valley floods, May 2023 [4096×2731][35mm film][OC]

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