TOPEKA – As much of the Southern United States withers under an unrelenting dry spell, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback Wednesday requested U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, issue a drought disaster declaration for 21 Kansas counties.
“Farmers in Kansas Counties are experiencing production losses caused by drought, wildfires, and high winds,” Gov. Brownback said. Declaring these county agricultural disasters will make them eligible for emergency loans administered by USDA’s Farm Service Agency, as well as any other aid that may be available through the Supplemental Revenue Assistance Payments Program approved in the 2008 farm bill.
The 21 counties included in the Governor’s request are Finney, Gove, Grant, Greeley, Hamilton, Haskell, Kearny, Lane, Logan, Meade, Morton, Ness, Scott, Seward, Sheridan, Sherman, Stanton, Stevens, Thomas, Wallace, and Wichita.
“Agriculture plays a vital role in our state economy,” Kansas Secretary of Agriculture Dale Rodman said. “A disaster declaration will help Kansas farmers and ranchers mitigate the negative impact this drought has had on their operations.”
The Governor’s request reflects the recommendations of the Kansas State Emergency Board.
Portions of Texas and a small part of eastern Louisiana are the only parts of the nation that rank in the National Weather Service’s worst drought condition category, said Victor Murphy, the climate service program manager for the National Weather Service’s southern region, based in Fort Worth. The “exceptional” drought level happens once every 50 to 100 years, he said.
Much of the rest of Texas and Louisiana are in extreme drought conditions — the worst in 20 to 50 years — as are parts of Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Florida and tiny portions of Colorado and Kansas. Other areas of those states are experiencing severe and moderate drought conditions, along with parts of Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina.
The widespread drought was spawned last year by La Nina, a condition that changes wind and air pressure patterns. It brought warmer-than-normal temperatures and less rainfall to the southern and central U.S., drying out grass and shrubs that have become fuel for wildfires that have ignited and raged out of control in several states.
The tinder-dry conditions are responsible for numerous wildfires in the South.
Based on weather forecasts, the drought likely will persist and even get worse in Texas, New Mexico and Oklahoma — as well as in eastern Arizona, eastern Colorado and western Kansas, said David Brown, regional climate services director for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. But a little improvement is predicted for a small band stretching from the middle of Oklahoma across northern Texas and Louisiana, Brown said. Drought conditions are expected to improve in eastern Oklahoma, and much of Arkansas and Florida, he said.