U.S. drought expands in many farm states

Thu Dec 13, 2012 11:10am EST

* Drought expands in Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas
    * Winter wheat crop worries persist
    * More than 42 percent of continguous U.S. in severe drought

    By Carey Gillam
    Dec 13 (Reuters) - Drought continued to expand through many
key farming states within the central United States in the past
week, as scattered rainfall failed to replenish parched soils,
according to a report issued Thursday by state and federal
climatology experts.
   Drought conditions were most pervasive in the Plains states,
including in top wheat producer Kansas, according to the Drought
Monitor report.
    Fully 100 percent of Kansas was in at least "severe" drought
as of Tuesday, up from 99.34 percent a week earlier, according
to the Drought Monitor, and almost 78 percent remained in at
least "extreme drought," the second-worst level of drought.
    Conditions in Nebraska were unchanged, with 96.15 percent of
the state in extreme drought, while the situation worsened in
Oklahoma, where the percentage of the state in at least extreme
drought increased to 90.92 percent from 90.56 percent a week
earlier.
    Texas drought conditions also worsened over the last week,
with more than 32 percent of the state in at least extreme
drought, up from 27.40 percent a week earlier, and more than 65
percent in at least severe drought, up from 59.27 percent, the
Drought Monitor report said.
           
   
 
    Overall, roughly 61.87 percent of the contiguous United
States was in at least "moderate" drought, a slight improvement
from 62.37 percent a week earlier. 
    The portion of the contiguous United States under at least
"severe" drought expanded, however, to 42.59 percent from 42.22
percent.
    Roughly 63 percent of the new winter wheat crop that U.S.
farmers planted in the fall is in drought-hit areas, with the
hard red winter wheat belt - especially from South Dakota to
Texas - remaining deeply entrenched in drought, according to the
U.S. Department of Agriculture. 
    Extreme temperature fluctuations from warmer-than-normal to
freezing conditions have stressed the crop, which already was in
poor shape due to lack of moisture.
    A developing storm over the Southwest is forecast to drift
northeastward, reaching the western Corn Belt by Saturday and
the Great Lakes region on Sunday, according to USDA
meteorologist Brad Rippey. 
    Storm-total precipitation could reach 1 to 2 inches in the
mountains of the Southwest, but only light rain will fall on the
central and southern Plains, Rippey said.  Slightly heavier
precipitation, locally in excess of a half-inch, will fall
during the weekend across the upper Midwest, he said.

 (Reporting by Carey Gillam in Kansas City; Editing by Lisa Von
Ahn)