California braces for flooding as spring weather melts massive snowpack

Tony Cabrera Image
Wednesday, April 26, 2023
California braces for flooding as snowpack melts
Flooding concerns are mounting across California as rising temperatures begin to melt the massive snowpack from the state's extreme winter.

Flooding concerns are mounting across California as rising temperatures begin to melt the massive snowpack from the state's extreme winter.

Many areas of the state received 700 inches of snow in total over the winter season. But the melting snowpack is posing a serious flooding threat to Central California.

The area of concern is Tulare Lake, located south of Fresno, which has returned for the first time in more than 25 years. It was once the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi River.

Snowmelt from the Sierra Nevada would naturally fill the lake every winter up until the early 1990s, when rivers were dammed for irrigation purposes.

Now, there are agricultural fields that are under water, with plenty of snow that hasn't melted yet.

A reservoir upstream is expected to get three times its capacity in the next couple months, meaning towns near the lake and along rivers and streams that lead to the lake are facing a dangerous flooding threat.

Gov. Gavin Newsom toured the area Tuesday to see it for himself.

"You can look at a scene like this and think the worst is going to recede, that the worst is behind us, when in fact it's quite the contrary. Every day you're seeing an incremental half-inch of new water present itself here in this basin," he said.

"As a consequence, we not only need to maintain our vigilance, but we can't be impatient in terms of the impending floods and the damage that will occur here in a very short order."

State leaders have been talking with first responders to determine next steps.

Most of Yosemite National Park, for example, will be temporarily closed starting Friday due to that forecast of flooding.

Park officials said Tuesday that the eastern section of Yosemite Valley will stay shut at least until May 3. Reservations for campgrounds and lodging in the eastern valley will automatically be canceled and refunded.

Other sections including western Yosemite Valley will remain open, officials said. Day hikers who have purchased wilderness permits for areas that will be off limits can have them rescheduled for alternate trailheads as space allows.

Spring weather is quickly melting huge amounts of snow that accumulated in mountains from a series of epic winter storms.

California's state climatologist Michael Anderson warned this week that rising temperatures will speed up the snowmelt and double the amount of water flowing into some of the state's reservoirs.

Water managers will determine whether they need to release more water from reservoirs but most residential communities are not expected to see immediate flooding due to the warming trend, he said.

South of Yosemite, some rural communities in low-lying areas are bracing for possible flooding. Residents in the Island District of Kings County have reactivated a crisis network to help each other prepare for rising waters.

Meanwhile the nearby city of Corcoran is adding to the top of a levee to try to keep water out. Much of the water has been channeled to an agricultural basin, recreating a vast lake that vanished during years of drought.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.