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U.S. federal forecasters on March 13 indicated that drought conditions in large parts of the country could intensify and persist through June, and that the nation needs to improve its drought readiness and response capabilities.

During an average year, droughts cost the U.S. economy more than $6 billion. But 2000 could be worse than average, due to the continued influence of La Niña in the Pacific Ocean that is displacing the position of the jet stream, and the lingering effects of the 1999 drought that include a soil moisture deficit, officials said.