Drought, warmer weather persist in much of U.S.

Thu Feb 2, 2012 12:42pm EST

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(Reuters) - Weird weather kept vexing large swathes of the United States over the last week, with unseasonably warm and dry conditions melting northern snows and spreading drought through the southwest, even as heavy rains soaked parched pastures in Texas and Oklahoma, according to climate experts.

Unseasonably warm temperatures were noted in Kansas and across many areas of the central Plains, with Kansas recording temperatures well above 60 degrees Fahrenheit this week.

For January, the state-wide average temperature in Kansas was 35.2 degrees Fahrenheit, 7.9 degrees warmer than the 1981-2010 average, or 6.2 degrees warmer than the 1895-2011 average, making January the 12th warmest January since 1895, according to state climatologist Mary Knapp.

Above-normal temperatures and below-normal precipitation over the past 60-90 days has made drought more intense in some areas of southeastern New Mexico and western Texas, according to the Drought Monitor weekly climatology report issued on Thursday by a consortium of U.S. climate experts.

Locally heavy rains across part of northern Texas and southeastern Oklahoma and northwest Arkansas helped ease drought conditions slightly.

But in the week through January 31, Texas statewide saw exceptional drought - the highest level - climb to 27.36 percent of the state from 25.27 percent, according to the Drought Monitor.

Texas is trying to emerge from a year that saw records shattered for both high heat and lack of moisture. The one-year period between November 1, 2010, and October 31, 2011, was the driest in the state's history, and three-month period of June to August in Texas was the hottest ever reported by any state in U.S. history, according to state and federal climate experts.

Moderate drought was reported for 57.33 percent of California, up from 41.23 percent the previous week, while abnormally dry conditions spread to 88.91 percent of the state, up from 80.88 percent, the Drought Monitor said.

Nevada had 81.16 percent of the state rated in moderate drought, up from 64.59 the prior week. And New Mexico saw exceptional and extreme drought levels rise to 24.74 percent of the state from 23.37 percent.

(Reporting by Carey Gillam)

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