CODY, Wyoming (Reuters) – Governor Matt Mead asked on Tuesday for a presidential disaster declaration in Wyoming to free up federal funds to repair roads and bridge damaged by harsh winter weather and flooding.
Mead became the third governor in the Northern Rockies to seek such a declaration stemming from floods, landslides and washouts during a spring and early summer marked by runoff from heavy rains and the melting of a record mountain snowpack.
Damage to public infrastructure, including highways, bridges and sewer treatment systems, is projected to run in the millions across Wyoming, Montana and Idaho.
Citing figures from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Mead said damage in Wyoming alone was estimated to total more than $4 million, with the cost of emergency repairs to highways and interstates put at an additional $2.8 million.
Any general disaster declarations in the state would be granted by President Barack Obama county by county. Mead also asked the U.S. Agriculture Department to declare farm disasters in two counties.
Earlier in the season, a presidential disaster was declared in Montana, where severe storms and flooding on tributaries of the Missouri River racked up an estimated $8.6 million in damage. A presidential disaster declaration was approved for Idaho in May for damage pegged at $4.4 million.
Jeff Kitsmiller, meteorologist in Montana for the National Weather Service, said La Nina, a weather pattern characterized by colder ocean temperatures in the eastern equatorial Pacific, was behind the harsh weather in the Rocky Mountain West.
"It's an almost historic La Nina. For the Northern Rockies, that results in a lot of winter snow and spring rain," he said.
La Nina, also blamed for this year's devastating tornadoes in the Midwest and elsewhere and for a severe drought in the southwestern United States, has left snow in high elevations of the Rockies at levels Kitsmiller described as "off the charts" in some spots.
He said forecasts show the La Nina pattern could make a comeback in the region this winter.
"We'd see a lot more of the same: more snowfall, more precipitation," he said.
(Additional reporting and writing by Laura Zuckerman; Editing by Steve Gorman and Cynthia Johnston)