CHICAGO (Reuters) - Drought conditions eased after storms moved across the central United States and the U.S. Plains in the past week, bringing much-needed moisture to some of the driest areas of the country, according to a report released on Thursday by state and federal climatologists.
The Drought Monitor report, which tracks soil moisture on a weekly basis, said the Plains - the region hardest hit by the drought of 2012 - was seeing some relief from the drought. As of Tuesday, 73 percent of the region was in severe to exceptional drought, down from 81 percent a week earlier.
Last week's storms brought more than 2 inches of precipitation to parts of the central Plains and western Corn Belt, the report said. But it was dry from west Texas to eastern Colorado into western Kansas and southwestern Nebraska.
Big improvements were noted in the Dakotas and minor easing in Kansas, Wyoming and Colorado.
But Nebraska, the most drought-stricken state and a key producer of corn and livestock, saw little improvement in the week. The entire state remains under severe to exceptional drought.
The western Corn Belt, another area of concern given depleted soil moisture, also improved in the past week, especially Minnesota and Iowa. In Minnesota, just 21 percent of the state was in severe to extreme drought, down from 67 percent the week before.
The top grain state of Iowa recorded its wettest week since June 2010 as 2.9 inches of precipitation fell, according to the state climatologist Harry Hillaker. Normal weekly precipitation for mid-April is 0.78 inches.
The moisture eased drought in Iowa, with 32 percent of the state now in severe to exceptional drought, versus 44 percent a week ago.
The report said the coming week will also be wet across the central United States, with another 3 inches of precipitation expected from Oklahoma into Michigan.
The precipitation coupled with a heavy snowpack in the northern Plains and Midwest raises the potential for spring flooding in the Red River Valley of North Dakota, a major production area for spring wheat, National Weather Service meteorologists said Thursday on a monthly drought update call.
(Reporting by Christine Stebbins; Editing by Peter Galloway)