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"A year ago we were on fire. A year later, we're wet": How climate change could damage America's most treasured national parks

Climate change's risk to national parks
Floods that devastated Yellowstone now impacting Montana, water supplies threatened 02:53

Alisha Beekman woke up on Wednesday to her 10-year-old screaming—floodwaters that tore through Red Lodge, Montana had come without warning and made it inside Beekman's home. 

"The water was flowing so quickly and rising so fast that I needed to get the breakers off," she told CBS News' Jonathan Vigliotti. 

She and her family were able to escape unharmed but are now in the process of cleaning up the damage left behind by the same waters that devastated Yellowstone National Park earlier this week.  

Yellowstone National Park Flooding
Alisha Beekman looks at soggy drywall in her daughter's bedroom Wednesday, June 15, 2022, in Red Lodge, Mont. Her home was one of hundreds in the small city that flooded when torrential rains swelled waterways across the Yellowstone region. Brittany Peterson / AP

Flooding over the last several days has forced the popular summer tourist destination to remain closed as water levels rise throughout the park.  

The dramatic flooding could permanently damage one of the nation's oldest, most treasured landmarks, according to experts.  

"One aspect of climate change is that we're going to see more extreme weather events. And I think we're seeing that not only in Montana but around the country and around the world. Events that really exceed what we've seen in recorded history," Cathy Whitlock, a scientist and professor of earth sciences at Montana State University said.  

Whitlock fears even the nation's most protected national parks are now at risk because of our changing climate. 

"We have to really plan for change. The infrastructure in places like Yellowstone is not ready for climate change. We're seeing roads wash out, landslides. We need to give that some more thought," she said. 

The park encompasses 2.2 million acres in Wyoming, Idaho and Montana. At least 87 people were airlifted to safety in Montana alone. 

"No one's ever seen anything like this," said Red Lodge Fire Chief Tom Kuntz.

Kuntz estimates that about 250 homes in the city of Red Lodge have been damaged by the flooding. 

"That boulder right there gives you a sense of the power of this water. That that boulder was originally in our main street," he said. "The river literally came right through here and went through these folk's house. The river was going through their living room." 

Kuntz said that in recent years the weather has been extreme and unpredictable. 

"A year ago we were on fire. A year later, we're wet. We have the highest stream flows the area has ever seen," said Kuntz. 

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