UPDATE 1-Winter storm to boost U.S. wheat, hamper cattle movement

Mon Feb 25, 2013 3:22pm EST

* Snowstorm, blizzard seen bringing relief from drought
    * Enough moisture now to get the crop growing
    * Storm snarling cattle operations

 (Adds details from Texas and Kansas livestock sources)
    By Sam Nelson
    CHICAGO, Feb 25 (Reuters) - Snow and a snow-rain mix were
forecast for nearly all of the U.S. Plains hard red winter wheat
region Monday and Tuesday, bringing welcome relief from the
worst drought in over 50 years but snarling transportation and
hampering livestock operations.
    "We weren't able to make it in the office this morning. They
say we have about 14 inches now and we could get up to 20
inches. I can hardly see 100 yards out my back window," said 
Kenneth Gladney, officer in charge of the USDA market news
office in Amarillo, Texas.
    "I don't see how any (cattle) buyers could get around," he
said.
    In a sign that the storm was delaying cattle shipments,
packers on Monday processed 87,000 head of cattle, down 22,000
from a week earlier and 33,000 less than the same period a year
ago, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data.
    A farmer in southeast Kansas was building windbreaks for his
cow herd from big round bales of straw and corn stalks.
    "It's supposed to hit here around three (3:00 p.m. CST, 2100
GMT). They're now saying we are to get 12 to 18 inches of snow
and 20 to 30 mile-per-hour winds," he said. 
    Wheat farmers should welcome the precipitation as the 2013
crop approaches the spring growing season.
    "It will certainly be enough moisture now to get the crop
growing when it breaks dormancy," said John Dee, meteorologist
for Global Weather Monitoring. "More will be needed in April and
May. For now it's a big help." 
    Dee said roughly a foot of snow would fall Monday and
Tuesday in nearly all of Kansas, and rain mixed with snow would
fall elsewhere, bringing about 0.50 inch to 1.00 inch of
moisture to most of the Plains.
    The storm, following a similar one last week, will help
boost winter wheat prospects and add valuable soil moisture
ahead of spring planting of corn and soybeans.
    Commodity Weather Group (CWG) said on Monday that a blizzard
was under way in the southwestern Plains on Monday, with winds
gusting above 60 mph in west Texas. Snow totals of mostly 6.00
to 12.00 inches were expected.
    "The storm will exit later today, but additional stress is
occurring to cattle from the Kansas-Oklahoma border
southwestward into west Texas," said CWG meteorologist Joel
Widenor.
    "The storm will aid soil moisture for much of the southern
half of the Plains wheat belt, though, with another chance for
more moisture in Colorado, Kansas and Oklahoma next week," he
said.
    Thursday's weekly Drought Monitor report issued by a group
of state and federal climatologists showed 18.66 percent of the
contiguous United States was suffering from extreme drought, up
from 17.71 percent a week earlier. The percentage in exceptional
drought, the worst category, grew to 6.66 percent from 6.61
percent the previous week. 
    Kansas wheat farmers welcomed the winter snowstorm, but the
drought-stress on the winter wheat crop from seeding time last
fall until now probably has harmed some of it beyond repair,
experts have said. 
    Don Keeney, meteorologist for MDA EarthSat Weather, said
that as of early February, roughly 4 to 6 inches of rain were
needed in Kansas, the top producer of hard red winter wheat, to
bring the state out of drought status. And up to 8 inches were
needed in a pocket of severe dryness in northeastern Kansas, a
big corn- and grain sorghum-growing area.  
 
    Similar amounts were needed in Nebraska, Texas, Oklahoma,
Iowa and Missouri and the northern reaches of Illinois and
Indiana.
    Significant winter rainfall and snow have eliminated the
drought for now in an area roughly from Illinois eastward,
according to Keeney.    

 (Reporting by Sam Nelson; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn and Jim
Marshall)
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