Texas drought continues to shrink, more rain needed

Thu Oct 27, 2011 12:10pm EDT

Footprints mark the bank of a partially dried-up pond near downtown Dallas, Texas August 1, 2011.  REUTERS/Tim Sharp

Footprints mark the bank of a partially dried-up pond near downtown Dallas, Texas August 1, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Tim Sharp

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(Reuters) - With the onset of fall weather, the U.S. South was starting to creep out of a devastating drought that has caused billions of dollars in damages, according to a national drought report issued Thursday.

For parts of Texas and Oklahoma, it has been the longest dry spell on record.

Recent rainfall, including showers moving through parts of the Plains this week, helped replenish thirsty soils and barren ponds and reservoirs, though climatologists warned that it will take significant rainfall to overcome this summer's record heat and long-term drought.

As winter approaches and temperatures cool, less moisture will evaporate. That should help improve circumstances through Texas, parts of Oklahoma and elsewhere that have suffered from a long-lasting drought, according to the Drought Monitor report issued by a team of federal and academic climatologists.

The Drought Monitor stated that 90.87 percent of the Lone Star State was considered in extreme or exceptional drought. That was down from 91.87 percent a week earlier and the peak of 96.99 percent in the October 4 report.

And the worst level of drought, exceptional drought, fell to 69.61 percent from 72.61 percent of the state, according to the Drought Monitor.

Texas so far has suffered more than $5 billion in agricultural losses, and wildfires have scorched millions of acres during the state's longest dry period on record.

Over the last week, Oklahoma also saw an improvement in the level of exceptional drought, which dropped to 54.84 from 59.09 percent of the state. And taking into account the second-worst level of drought, extreme drought, the dryness contracted to 86.26 percent from 87.85 percent.

Louisiana saw drought levels hold unchanged with exceptional drought spread through 35.36 percent of the state.

But drought in the key wheat-producing state of Kansas grew worse, expanding to 34.06 percent of the state in extreme or exceptional drought from 32.50 percent a week earlier.

(Reporting by Carey Gillam in Kansas City; Editing by John Picinich)

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