North Dakota residents exhausted from multiple floods

(CBS News) FARGO, N.D. -- The Red River crested this week in Fargo, N.D., 16 feet above flood stage. Temporary levees prevented major damage, but folks there have noticed a big change on the river.

Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker has the look of a man who's seen a lot -- because he has.

"Four floods in the last five years. That's extremely unusual," he said.

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Last year was the only season since 2009 without a flood because there was a drought.

Across the Midwest this year, the weather has dramatically shifted.

Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker
Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker
CBS News

Across the Midwest this year, the weather has dramatically shifted.

Areas that received almost no rain last summer are facing floods now, thanks to an inundation of rain and snow.

Walaker said he suspects something big is going on. "Is it climate change?" he asked. "I really don't know."

Four years ago, Fargo was threatened by a 40-foot crest that was barely defended by an army of volunteers and a mountain of sandbags. This year Fargo spent $2 million on a floodwall that is gradually coming down.

April Walker is Fargo's city engineer. She said the flood certainly isn't over yet.

"Anytime we're above 30 feet you know it's still a situation that we need to be paying attention to," said Walker.

That's because over the last eight months, precipitation in the upper Midwest has jumped from way below average to extremely high, with near or above record levels in April. And it may not be done yet.

But to Danja Hall, who lives along the Red River, the worst is over.

Two Fargo, N.D., residents get across the road via canoe. The Red River crested 16 feet above flood stage.
Two Fargo, N.D., residents get across the road via canoe. The Red River crested 16 feet above flood stage.
CBS News

"Just the anticipation of not knowing what's going on gets a little bothersome," she said. "Who likes to be worried every year?"

But Fargo officials warn against complacency. The Red River has shown it is increasingly prone to flood, and these officials say it's likely the sandbags will return next spring.

  • Dean Reynolds

    Dean Reynolds is a CBS News National Correspondent based in Chicago.

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