St. Mary’s County
farmer Tommy Bowles has been pumping water to his pumpkin patch and corn maze to prepare for pre-Halloween crowds. But he can’t afford to irrigate all his crops, and the corn, soybeans and wheat are suffering in the heat and bone-dry soil.

“This is about the worst drought I’ve seen since I’ve been in farming — and I’ve been farming for 33 years,” Bowles, 52, said. “We just haven’t really had any rain at all.”

Between 11 p.m. and midnight last night almost a half inch of rain poured down in parts of western
Fairfax County
, but even that was far from enough to overcome the drought.

In August, all of
and seven
counties were declared federal drought disaster areas. Today, Virginia officials are expected to announce that eight additional counties, including Loudoun, received the
U.S. Department of Agriculture
designation, which allows farmers to qualify for low-interest loans.

The hot, dry weather is being felt across the country. Experts call it the worst drought to hit the United States in years, parching wide swaths of the country, from
New England
and west to
. “This is a real doozy,” said Mark Svoboda, a climatologist at the National Drought Mitigation Center in

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