Yosemite National Park, an iconic symbol of American wilderness, has seen plenty of snow in its 133-year history. But the snow drifts piling up there this week have been extreme, and they’ve kept the park closed for five days and counting.
The storms hitting the area over the last week or so have coincided with unusually cold weather, causing precipitation to fall as snow rather than rain in the Yosemite Valley.
“One after another, they have kept coming,” said Jim Bagnall, a forecaster at the Weather Service office in nearby Hanford, Calif.
In one sign of the extreme weather, the floor of the Yosemite Valley recorded 40 inches of snow depth on Tuesday, beating the 36 inches recorded there on the same day in 1969.
The valley, about seven miles long, sits at an elevation of nearly 4,000 feet. Mr. Bagnall said its greatest-ever snow depth — 60 inches — was in 1907, a year after snowpack record-keeping began there.
Yosemite National Park was closed last week and had been scheduled to reopen on Thursday. But as of Wednesday night, park officials had postponed that reopening date and not settled on a new one. Snowdrifts were up to 15 feet deep in some areas, and crews were working to restore critical services.
In the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, the mountain range that contains Yosemite, roads have also been closed in recent days, inconveniencing residents in communities like Oakhurst and Mariposa, Mr. Bagnall said.
The National Park Service did not respond to a request for comment on Wednesday night.
The record snow amount in Yosemite is the latest extreme precipitation to pummel California this winter — deluges that have led to repeated episodes of flooding, power outages and evacuations.
Among the weather records set in the process: Los Angeles International Airport received a record amount of rain and Los Angeles County issued its first blizzard warning since Feb. 4, 1989.
As of Wednesday night, more than 18 million people across a large, north-to-south band of California were under a freeze warning. And more snow was forecast for the weekend, including up to two feet in the Yosemite area.
Some roads and popular hiking routes had already been closed because of snow or ice — including portions of the John Muir Trail, which is named after a monumental figure in American environmentalism, whose writings and advocacy helped inspire Congress to create the park in 1890.
Muir himself was no stranger to snow. On a 1903 camping trip in the park with President Theodore Roosevelt, five inches fell and the commander in chief “arose to white flakes on his blankets,” according to the National Park Service.
Decades earlier, Muir had written eloquently about snow falling with “unabated lavishness” during one of his trips to Mount Shasta in Northern California.
“Its development was gentle in the extreme — the deliberate growth of cumulus clouds beneath, the weaving of translucent tissue above, then the roar of the wind, the crash of thunder, and the darkening flight of snow flowers,” he wrote in 1877.
“Its decay was not less sudden — the clouds broke and vanished, not a snowflake was left in the sky, and the stars shone out with pure and tranquil radiance.”