Big snow storm heading to Plains wheat belt

CHICAGO Fri Jan 28, 2011 11:37am EST

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CHICAGO (Reuters) - A big snow storm is forecast for the southern Plains hard red winter wheat belt by Tuesday, providing much-needed moisture and a blanket of protection for the dormant wheat crop, a forecaster said Friday.

The southern portions of the hard red winter wheat belt -- Texas, Oklahoma to southern Kansas -- were expected to get 3 to 6 inches (75 to 150 mm) of snow. But snows could be heavier, up to 8 to 10 inches in some spots. Snowfall will be lighter, 1 to 3 inches, from northern Kansas northward.

"The main impact if this develops is it will provide some protection because it looks like temperatures are turning much colder," said Mike Palmerino, forecaster with Telvent DTN weather service.

Morning lows could dip to minus 5 to 5 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 20 to minus 15 Celsius) by Wednesday morning. That raises the risk of winterkill especially since there is snow cover now.

The U.S. hard red wheat crop went into dormancy in poor condition, suffering from a lack of rain since the autumn. Wheat continues to deteriorate this winter as dryness persists.

"It looks like the system might be slower moving, pulling some moisture out of the Gulf which we have not seen in a long time," Palmerino said.

The heavy snow will also add stress to cattle in southern feedlots, Palmerino said.

The Plains were warm and dry on Thursday -- highs in the 60s F -- and were expected to stay clear through Sunday. There was a chance of light snow or rain on Monday before the heavy snow on Tuesday. The remainder of the week will be dry.

The six to 10-day Plains outlook for Wednesday to Sunday called for normal to below-normal temperatures and below-normal precipitation.

(Reporting by Christine Stebbins; Editing by Marguerita Choy)

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