The last time I visited with Julie Schemionek her farmstead was nearly surrounded by rising water from Devils Lake. There was only one road open to their farmstead and water was rising fast.
Schemionek, who farms with her husband, Randy, and also works for an insurance company in Devils Lake, N.D., was spearheading a lobbying effort to build up township roads.
Today – after three months of relatively dry weather and work over the summer by local, state and federal officials – access has improved for some.
But it won't take much more rainfall to flood the roads and cut them off again, Schemionek says.
Even winter travel may be difficult. With ditches full of water there isn't any place to push the snow.
"There isn't much wiggle room," she says.
Keeping the power on to isolated farmstead will be challenging, too. Power poles that have been standing in water for years are liable to tip over or break off.
"We are just an ice storm and Alberta clipper away from serious problems," Schemionek says.
The best thing for Devils Lake flood victims would a mild winter with no snow. But few signs – scientific or otherwise – point to an open winter.
The National Weather Service's three month outlook calls for above normal precipitation and perhaps some record low temperatures across the Upper Midwest in December and January. Climatologists expect an El Nino event to build in the Pacific as winter begins, bringing more storms than normal to the northern Plains.
Schemionek sees signs of a tough winter ahead in sloughs and marshes that surround her farmstead. According to local lore, the larger the muskrat houses, the worse the winter.
"They re so big this year, they take your breath away," she says. "They're like mountains."