Dry weather persists in drought-stricken U.S. wheat region
* Blast of cold air forecast for weekend in the Plains
* Wheat crops should not be harmed - meteorologists
CHICAGO Jan 16 (Reuters) - Dry weather will persist in the U.S. Plains hard red winter wheat region for at least the next week, but a cold snap is not expected to harm crops, agricultural meteorologists said on Wednesday.
World Weather Inc meteorologist Andy Karst said a blast of cold air in the eastern United States will begin Sunday with temperatures falling to below zero in the northern Midwest and northern Plains. He said readings of 20 to 30 degrees below zero (Fahrenheit) were possible in eastern North Dakota and northern Minnesota.
"It won't affect the hard red winter area in the Plains but it's an impressive cold air mass," Karst said. "We'll have to watch for possible damage in Florida citrus later next week."
Karst said it would be a dry week in the southern Plains, which will further impact already subpar soil moisture reserves.
Commodity Weather Group meteorologist Joel Widenor on Wednesday said showers would shift to the U.S. Southeast late this week, away from the moisture-starved Plains States.
"This will keep drought relief minimal for the Plains and western Midwest," Widenor said.
Cool temperatures early next week are still not strong enough to damage U.S. wheat or Florida citrus, according to Widenor.
The U.S. Plains remain in the grip of a severe drought, according to a report issued last week by a consortium of federal and state climatology experts, raising fears that another hot, dry year could lie ahead for crop-growing and cattle-grazing regions.
The government declared much of the central and southern U.S. Wheat Belt a natural disaster area last Wednesday because of the persistent drought threatening the winter wheat harvest.
In its first disaster declaration of the new year, the Agriculture Department made farmers in large portions of four major wheat-growing states, Kansas, Colorado, Oklahoma and Texas, eligible for low-interest emergency loans. (Reporting By Sam Nelson; Editing by Grant McCool)