* Western U.S. sees drought spread as Texas improves
* Northern Plains eyed with concern, moisture needed
By Carey Gillam
Feb 23Drought kept a tight grip on large
sections of the United States, but recent rains put some of the
most hard-hit areas on the road to recovery, a report from
climate experts said Thursday.
Recent rains and snowfall boosted soil moisture and started
to replenish ground water supplies in key areas of the U.S.
South that suffered historic drought in 2011.
"It's been pretty darn wet, the last 90 days ... we've seen
improvements," said Mark Svoboda, a climatologist at the
University of Nebraska's Drought Mitigation Center. "It's been
very unexpected but very welcomed."
Moisture has been especially critical for Texas, and the
state's level of drought saw notable improvement over the last
week, according to the Drought Monitor, a weekly report on
drought throughout the country compiled by U.S. climate experts.
In Texas, the levels of exceptional drought - the highest
measurement - fell to 13.93 percent of the state from 20.41
percent in the latest reporting week, ended Feb. 21. Severe or
worse drought levels dropped to 67.48 percent from 76.46
Texas is trying to emerge from a year that saw records
shattered for both high heat and lack of moisture. The one-year
period between Nov. 1, 2010, and Oct. 31, 2011, was the driest
in the state's history, and the three-month period of June to
August in Texas was the hottest ever reported by any state in
U.S. history, according to state and federal climate experts.
Conditions grew more dire in the west, however. California
saw moderate or worse drought rise to 67.76 percent of the
state, up from 59.06 percent in the latest reporting week.
Nevada had 81.80 percent of the state rated in moderate or
worse drought, up from 81.59 percent the prior week. Arizona saw
moderate drought rise to 86.92 percent of the state from 80.56
percent. And New Mexico also saw drought spread.
Another area of concern is the upper Midwest and Northern
Plains, where spring planting of corn, soybeans and wheat is set
to start soon. Soil moisture levels need boosting to ensure good
production potential for the key U.S. crops.
Iowa, the largest U.S. corn and soybean producting state has
about 20 percent of the state currently suffering moderate
As temperatures continue to warm with the end of winter,
precipitation will be needed.
"Spring is right on the doorstop, and the temperatures are
going to ramp back up," said Svoboda.
(Reporting by Carey Gillam)