Drought conditions moderate slightly in U.S. Plains -report
March 21 (Reuters) - Light rains have helped reduce severe and extreme drought conditions in portions of the U.S. Plains, but abnormally dry weather lingered in the area that produces most of the country's wheat, according to a weekly report issued on Thursday. There was little rain in Texas, resulting in an expansion of the state's "exceptional" dryness, the worst conditions as classified by the Drought Monitor report issued by a consortium of state and federal climatologists. But in the top wheat growing state of Kansas, "extreme" conditions moderated slightly even though the entire state as well as the entire High Plains region, outside of part of North Dakota, remains in a drought, the report stated. The lack of rainfall and short top soil moisture levels could stress the wheat crop and reduce yields at harvest. The crop is exiting its winter dormancy and the recent below-normal temperatures may also harm the young plants. "In the far western Panhandle region, Cimarron County (Oklahoma) in particular is experiencing widespread winter wheat and native grass loss," the climatologists wrote. In a separate report on Thursday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecast an easing of drought conditions as well as above-normal temps this spring in both the Plains and Midwest regions. (Reporting by Michael Hirtzer in Chicago; editing by Jim Marshall)
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