Drought conditions improve in U.S. Plains -report
March 14 (Reuters) - Drought continued to retreat in many areas of the U.S. Plains as snow and rainfall replenished parched soils and gave farmers and ranchers an improved outlook for better crop and livestock conditions, according to a report issued on Thursday. Eight U.S. states continued to suffer from the worst level of drought, dubbed "exceptional" by the Drought Monitor, a report issued by a consortium of state and federal climatologists each week. But many saw improvement. According to this week's report: * The High Plains region, the area hit the hardest by drought, showed that exceptional drought f e l l t o 24.37 percent of the region for the week that ended March 12, from 25.87 percent in the prior week. The second-worst drought level, "extreme," gripped 55.58 percent, down from 55.76 percent. And the third-worst level of drought, "severe," had a hold on 81.46 percent of the region, but that was down from 82.03 percent the prior week, the report said. * In Kansas, the top U.S. wheat-growing state, severe drought, which had gripped 100 percent of the state, dropped to 96.41 percent, the Drought Monitor report said. Extreme drought engulfed 64.62 percent of Kansas, down from 69.75 percent a week earlier. And exceptional drought had a hold on 21.41 percent of the state, down slightly from 21.43 percent. * Exceptional drought in Nebraska fell to 76.41 percent, down from 76.76 percent of the state, while extreme drought rose slightly to 96.13 percent from 96.10 percent. * In Colorado, exceptional drought was unchanged at 21.22 percent of the state, down from 24.92 percent, and extreme drought edged higher to 48.06 percent from 48.04 percent. * Oklahoma is one of the states that has benefited the most from recent precipitation. Oklahoma saw severe drought fall to 83.16 percent from 100 percent; while extreme drought dropped to 56.70 percent from 61.65 percent of the state. Exceptional drought levels edged higher, however, to 9.71 percent from 9.54 percent. * In Wyoming, exceptional drought held steady at 10.10 percent, but extreme drought improved to 54.70 percent from 54.74 percent. * In New Mexico, exceptional drought was unchanged at 4.25 percent while extreme drought levels expanded to 49.93 percent from 49.88 percent a week earlier. * South Dakota saw improvement as exceptional drought dropped to 20.09 percent from 29.58 percent. * Exceptional drought increased slightly in Texas, to 8.57 percent from 7.41 percent, but extreme drought fell to 23.41 percent from 23.86 percent. * Overall, for the contiguous United States, "severe" or worse levels of drought dropped to 34.93 percent from 36.44 percent over the last week and extreme and exceptional drought levels also improved. (Reporting by Carey Gillam in Kansas City; Editing by Maureen Bavdek)
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