LAS VEGAS (AP) — Federal officials have designated portions of 11 drought-ridden western and central states as primary natural disaster areas, highlighting the financial strain the lack of rain is likely to bring to farmers in those regions.
The announcement by the U.S. Department of Agriculture on Wednesday included counties in
The designation means eligible farmers can qualify for low-interest emergency loans from the department.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said he and President Obama want to ensure that agriculture remains a bright spot in the nation's economy.
"USDA stands with you and your communities when severe weather and natural disasters threaten to disrupt your livelihood." he said in statement.
Counties adjacent to those affected also are eligible for assistance.
While storms have dumped rain and snow in the East, droughts are persisting or intensifying in the West, according to officials connected with the U.S. Drought Monitor, an index on which the USDA's declarations are based. A ridge of high pressure is to blame for keeping storms off the Pacific coast and guiding them to the East.
"What we're seeing meteorologically is a blocking pattern that is deflecting all the storms," said Brian Fuchs, a climatologist with the Lincoln, Neb.-based National Drought Mitigation Center. "There really hasn't been a lot of indication that this pattern is breaking down."
Poor snowpack is threatening regions dependent on major western rivers, and no amount of wet winter weather in the East can ease the pain, officials said.
"Once you cross the