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Drought expands in key U.S. farm states

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Thu, 7 Feb 2013 21:02 GMT
Author: Reuters
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* Severe drought still grips 87 pct of High Plains * Conditions worsen in Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado * Nebraska remains most drought-stricken state (Adds details) By Carey Gillam Feb 7 (Reuters) - Harsh drought conditions expanded in key U.S. farm states in the nation's midsection over the last week, climate experts said on Thursday. There has been some recent precipitation through the Plains region but the frozen ground did not allow for much moisture to penetrate into parched soils, according to the Drought Monitor report, a weekly analysis of drought conditions put together by a consortium of state and federal climate experts. The Plains states are key crop production areas, particularly for hard red winter wheat, an important bread-making crop. They are also critical areas for cattle and other livestock production. In Kansas, the level of exceptional drought - considered the worst level - expanded to 36.16 percent of the state, up from 36.14 percent a week earlier, while the second-worst level of drought, dubbed extreme, expanded to 79.54 percent of the state, up from 79.53 percent, the Drought Monitor said. Kansas encompasses roughly 52.4 million acres, meaning that even small adjustments in drought levels can affect thousands of acres. In Nebraska, roughly 77.47 percent of that state's 49.5 million acres is suffering from exceptional drought, up from 77.46 percent, and 96.28 percent of the state is still suffering from extreme drought, unchanged from the previous week, the Drought Monitor said. Colorado saw exceptional drought expand to 24.92 percent of the state, up from 13.50 percent the prior week. Thursday's Drought Monitor report showed severe drought still gripping 87.25 percent of the High Plains, unchanged from the previous week. Fully 100 percent of the land area in Kansas, Colorado, Nebraska and Oklahoma remained engulfed in severe drought or worse, according to the Drought Monitor. Oklahoma did see some easing of drought over the last week thanks to storms through the state in late January. Conditions were also improving in the Midwest, where ongoing drought - though not as severe as in the Plains - has been seen as potentially hindering spring planting of new corn and soybean crops. Jim Angel, state climatologist for Illinois, told Reuters Thursday that forecasts show an increased chance of above-average precipitation in February and February through April in parts of the upper Midwest and Great Lakes region. He said he was not worried about there being enough moisture in the spring for planting and emergence of corn and soybean crops. But he is worried about subsoil moisture levels in some areas of Illinois, reserves that typically are needed for plant health in July and August. Angel said there was great concern for the Plains. "It's a lot harder for them to shake off drought," Angel said. While the Plains states rank as the most drought-hit, overall, 56.84 percent of the contiguous United States was in at least "moderate" drought as of Feb. 5, a slight improvement from 57.68 percent the prior week. Exceptional drought expanded to 6.85 percent, up from 6.37 percent of the country. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) issued an updated outlook on Thursday that predicted drought would persist through the Plains states and west into California through at least April, though Iowa, Missouri, and parts of Minnesota and the Dakotas should seen improving conditions. "It's not overly encouraging," said Brian Fuchs, a climatologist at the University of Nebraska's Drought Mitigation Center. (Reporting by Carey Gillam in Kansas City; editing by Andrew Hay and Peter Galloway)

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