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Yosemite National Park shuts down amid massive winter storm: 'Leave as soon as possible'

The National Park Service is closing one of its most popular parks and urging visitors to leave as a heavy winter storm bears down on the area.

On Thursday, Yosemite National Park announced it would be closing at midnight, and will remain closed through at least Sunday at noon or possibly later. In a social media post, visitors inside the park were urged to leave no later than Friday at noon local time.

Yosemite added in the social post that high winds are expected, and the Badger Pass Ski Area may receive over seven feet of snow.

Blizzard warning, avalanche threats, life-threatening conditions

The National Weather Service office in San Joaquin Valley, California, which covers the park, warned of the winter storm and "heavy snow" through Sunday, especially in areas of over 2,500 feet in elevation.

Yosemite, located in a valley along the western Sierra Nevada mountains in California, is one of the most-visited national parks in the U.S., bringing in over 3.8 million visitors in 2023, per national park data.

Earlier this week, the National Weather Service warned of a blizzard that is expected to move through the Sierra Nevada, bringing high-intensity winds, large snowfall amounts and periods of whiteout conditions with zero visibility.

A school group crosses a meadow which is beginning to flood in front of Yosemite Falls in Yosemite Valley on April 28, 2023 in Yosemite National Park, California.
A school group crosses a meadow which is beginning to flood in front of Yosemite Falls in Yosemite Valley on April 28, 2023 in Yosemite National Park, California.

Life-threatening conditions are expected Friday night through Saturday morning, according to the warning. Light, fluffy snow can be easily blown around, creating whiteout conditions with near-zero visibility at all times.

In addition to the blizzard warning, an avalanche watch has also been issued for the central Sierra Nevada mountains, which includes the Greater Lake Tahoe area, located north of Yosemite. The Sierra Avalanche Center said high to extreme avalanche danger may occur Friday morning through Sunday night due to large amounts of snowfall and high winds.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Yosemite National Park: Weather forces closure; evacuations urged