Rain, cold, snow to challenge U.S. wheat and corn crops
* Cold snap to threaten US winter wheat
* Wet and cold weather stalling corn plantings
* Another storm seen for later next week
By Sam Nelson
CHICAGO, April 9 (Reuters) - Rain, snow and a cold snap this week will add valuable moisture to drought-stricken soils in the U.S. Plains and Midwest but also damage portions of the winter wheat crop and stall corn plantings, an agricultural meteorologist said on Tuesday.
"There will be heavy rains through Thursday of 1.5 inches up to 3.0 inches in the Plains and central Midwest with 3.0 to 12.0 inches of snow in Nebraska, northeast Colorado, South Dakota, Minnesota and northern Iowa," said Don Keeney, meteorologist for MDA Weather Services.
Keeney said the coldest temperatures in the low 20s (degrees Fahrenheit) would occur early Wednesday but it also will remain cold early Thursday.
"There will be some damage to the wheat crop in northwest Texas, western Oklahoma and southwest Kansas," Keeney said. Weather will turn drier by Friday through early next week but another storm system is expected beginning next Wednesday, he said. "Also, it will remain quite cold, not at all ideal for corn planting," Keeney said.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) on Monday said 36 percent of the U.S. winter wheat crop was in good to excellent condition, up from 34 percent in that category a week ago but still well below the year ago rating of 61 percent good to excellent.
The worst drought in over 50 years has taken a toll on the winter wheat crop that has broken away from its winter dormant or hibernation status and is now growing, leaving it vulnerable to harm from cold weather or another spate of dryness.
Drought conditions are retreating slowly in the U.S. Plains, according to a report issued Thursday by a consortium of state and federal climatologists.
Keeney said that at the end of March, 6 inches to 8 inches (15 cm to 20 cm) of rain were needed to bring soil moisture levels back to normal in much of Nebraska and a corner of northeast Kansas.
Keeney said 2 inches to 4 inches (5 cm to 10 cm) were needed in the balance of the central Plains and western Iowa.
The Drought Monitor report, which tracks the U.S. land area stricken by drought on a weekly basis, said the Plains, which has been the hardest hit, was seeing improvement because of rains and snow in the past two months. (Reporting by Sam Nelson; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)