Blizzard eases U.S. Plains drought but crops need more moisture

Wed Feb 27, 2013 9:12am EST

* Snow and rain this week benefit most areas
    * Rain and another storm on the way in March

    By Sam Nelson
    CHICAGO, Feb 27 (Reuters) - A blizzard this week in the
drought-stricken U.S. Plains will moisten soil for major crops,
but the snow storm made it difficult to feed cattle and reach
some cow herds, an agricultural meteorologist said on Wednesday.
    Andy Karst of World Weather Inc said the blast of winter
weather dropped a foot (30.5 cm) of snow in many areas with up
to 19 inches (48 cm) in the Texas Panhandle on Monday.
    "It will benefit most areas but parts of western Kansas and
eastern Colorado missed out on the storm, so it remains too dry
there," Karst said. "There was probably a lot of stress to
livestock."
    In more good news for farmers, agricultural meteorologists
predict light rain in some areas later this week and a larger
storm in early March. They say significant winter rainfall and
snow have so far eliminated the drought, the worst in 50 years
in the United States, in an area roughly from Illinois eastward.
    A combination of rain and snow early this week left roughly
6 inches (15 cm) to 18 inches (45 cm) of snow in a widespread
area of the western and southern Midwest corn and soybean belt
and most of the hard red winter wheat region in the Plains.
    The snowstorm contains about 0.50 inch (1.3 cm) to 1.50
inches (3.8 cm) of water that will be added to dry soils in the
region, helping the  U.S. winter wheat crop when it begins its
growth spurt this spring.
    But more moisture will be needed in April and May to nurse
the crop to maturity and to aid the soon-to-be-seeded corn and
soybean crops, meteorologists and crop experts have said.
    
    
   
    Commodity Weather Group meteorologist Joel Widenor said very
light showers would move into the Northern Plains and dry areas
of the western Midwest next week and a larger storm was expected
in the first or second weeks of March.
    Widenor said it will cover the far southeastern Plains,
Delta, southern and eastern Midwest but the recently wet areas
of the U.S. Southeast should remain drier.
    He said the March storm also would bring a chance for more
rainfall to the central and southeastern U.S. Plains but the
"forecast has slipped drier than yesterday."
    The weekly Drought Monitor report issued Feb. 21 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, rose 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 inches (10 cm) to 6 inches
(15.2 cm) of rain were needed in Kansas, the top producer of
hard red winter wheat, to bring the state out of drought status.
    Up to 8 inches (20.3 cm) 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 northern Illinois and
Indiana.

 (Reporting By Sam Nelson; Editing by Grant McCool)