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Drought to persist in most of West, Fla.

| Thursday, Feb. 21, 2013, 8:48 p.m.

WASHINGTON — Much of the West continues to struggle with unusually dry conditions, raising the prospect of another year of wildfires, stunted crops and unnavigable stretches of river in various parts of the country, according to a federal assessment.

More than two-thirds of the country is under abnormally dry to exceptional drought conditions, “which, although serious, is a slight improvement since fall 2012,” said the National Drought Early Warning Outlook.

Although the report said the drought is over in most of the nation east of the Mississippi River, the portion of the country still facing drought — most of the West and Florida — should expect it “to persist or intensify.”

“The 2012-2013 drought has serious implications for agriculture, navigation, recreation and municipal water supplies, costing the nation at least $35 billion in economic losses,” said the outlook, developed by a federal interagency group and issued by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

A growing body of research suggests that extreme weather patterns, such as drought, are being driven by climate change. As a result, federal, state and local agencies are trying to prepare for protracted drought in different parts of the country.

There are “webinars” for Great Plains ranchers to raise livestock in drought conditions and handbooks for cities to make them “drought-resilient.”

In Thebes, Ill., the Army Corps of Engineers is blowing up rock formations in the Mississippi River to make it navigable when the water is low. Emergency management staff members in Texas are preparing for the possibility that some communities might run short on water, said Veva Deheza of NOAA.

NOAA predicts that most of the United States will have higher-than-usual temperatures during the next three months and that much of the West, down through Texas, the Gulf Coast and the Southeast will have below-normal precipitation.

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