Rain a Relief for States After Extended Drought

By Sam Nelson | March 8, 2013

More drought-relieving rainfall is expected from Friday through the weekend in the United States crop belt, which is slowly recovering soil moisture after suffering the worst dry spell in decades last year.

Agricultural meteorologists said wet weather is forecast for the states of Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota and Wisconsin and also eastern Nebraska, northern Kansas and northern Colorado.

The extended drought last summer, the worst in 50 years, slashed more than 25 percent of the projected bushels of corn to be produced per acre, cutting the supply of corn in the United States to a current 17-year low.

In the next few days, the top corn growing state of Iowa can expect 0.65 inches (1.7 cm) of rain and up to 1.50 inches (3.8 cm) said Andy Karst, meteorologist for World Weather Inc.

Karst said heavy snowfall and blizzard conditions would hit the western Nebraska Panhandle and eastern Wyoming over the weekend. The storm is expected to bring only light precipitation of 0.15 inch (0.4 cm) to 0.50 inch (1.3 cm) in the winter wheat areas of southern Kansas extending into the Texas Panhandle, he said.

Commodity Weather Group meteorologist Joel Widenor said Nebraska, northern Colorado, Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin would experience the best drought relief from the weekend storm.

Widenor said that a weather system expected in the third week of March “gives a similar chance from Nebraska into Iowa.”

Winter wheat growers in the U.S. High Plains were enjoying improved soil-moisture conditions in some growing areas as the region’s drought levels continued to retreat, according to a report issued on Thursday.

Drought conditions eased because of recent snowstorms in top wheat producer Kansas and other wheat producers Nebraska, Oklahoma and Colorado.

But conditions grew worse in Texas.

Altogether, eight U.S. states continued to suffer from the worst levels of drought, dubbed “exceptional” by the Drought Monitor, a report issued by a consortium of state and federal climatologists each week.

Meteorologists said the significant winter snow and rain had so far eliminated the drought conditions in an area roughly from Illinois eastward.

But more moisture will be needed in April and May to nurse the winter wheat crop to maturity and aid the soon-to-be-seeded corn and soybean crops.

The heavy snowfall across the U.S. Midwest in late February provided hope to farmers that the 2013 crop season will return to normal after last year’s drought, but a top Iowa State University scientist warns the region is not out of the woods.

“The snow is not bad news in the Corn Belt but does not give a sure sign of a shift to great crop weather conditions. Almost everything, 85 percent, west of I-35 is still on the dry side,” Elwynn Taylor, Iowa State University climatologist told Reuters on-line chat room.

He was referring to the stretch of farmland from central Iowa westward to Nebraska and north to South Dakota. Those three states produce about a third of the U.S. corn crop and soybean crop, with Iowa being the top crop state.

Don Keeney, a meteorologist for MDA Earthsat Weather, said that as of early February, about 4 inches (10 cm) to 6 inches (15 cm) of rain was needed in Kansas, the top producer of hard red winter wheat, to bring the state out of drought status.

Up to 8 inches (20 cm) was needed in a pocket of severe dryness in northeastern Kansas, a big corn- and grain sorghum-growing area. Similar amounts were needed in Nebraska, Texas, Oklahoma, Iowa and Missouri and northern Illinois and Indiana.

(Additional reporting by Carey Gillam in Kansas City and Christine Stebbins in Chicago; Editing by Grant McCool)

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