JACKSON, Wyo. (AP) — Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said Friday the financial crisis that has pounded the country — coupled with higher inflation — is taking a toll on the economy and poses a major challenge to Fed policymakers as they try to restore stability.

"Although we have seen some improved functioning in some markets, the financial storm that reached gale force" around this time last year "has not yet subsided, and its effects on the broader economy are becoming apparent in the form of softening economic activity and rising unemployment," Bernanke said in a speech to a high-profile economics conference here.

Although Bernanke welcomed the recent drops in prices for oil and other commodities, and believes inflation will moderate this year and next, the Fed chief said the inflation outlook remains highly uncertain.

The Fed, he said, would monitor the situation closely and will "act as necessary" to make sure that inflation doesn't get out of hand.

The current financial and economic environment is one of the most challenging to Fed policymakers "in memory," he acknowledged.