* Snow in U.S. Plains has no impact on drought condition
* Drought expected to persist in Plains next three months
* U.S. Midwest, South sees modest drought relief
* Low water on Mississippi River remains a worry
By Julie Ingwersen
CHICAGO, Jan 3 Snowfall in parts of the U.S.
Plains last week had little impact on historic drought gripping
the region, but parts of Illinois, Wisconsin and the Southeast
showed slight improvement, weather experts said.
A weekly report issued Thursday by a consortium of federal
and state climatology experts said that as of Jan. 1, 42.05
percent of the contiguous United States was in severe to
exceptional drought, down from 42.45 percent the previous week.
Parts of the central Plains received snow in the last week,
providing some much-needed protection for the region's dormant
winter wheat crop before temperatures plunged at the end of
However, the snow did not offer much drought relief,
according to the weekly U.S. Drought Monitor report.
"It's getting colder now and the ground is starting to
freeze up, so if any precipitation does fall, it's not going to
go into the soil," said David Miskus, a meteorologist with the
U.S. Climate Prediction Center who contributes to the Drought
In a seasonal outlook released Thursday, the Climate
Prediction Center said extreme to exceptional drought was likely
to persist across the Plains for the next three months.
"Most of the annual rainfall for the High Plains really
occurs in the springtime and early summer, so that is going to
be the critical period. They really do need a wet season this
year to make any kind of dent in the drought," Miskus said.
Earlier this week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said
that in Kansas, the top wheat producing state, 24 percent of the
crop was rated in good to excellent condition as of Dec. 30, a
drop from 29 percent at the end of November. USDA attributed the
decline to limited moisture.
In Nebraska, only 14 percent of the winter wheat crop was
rated good while zero percent of it was rated excellent. That
compared with 74 percent a year earlier for those categories
Current drought conditions are most severe in Nebraska,
where the Drought Monitor shows more than 77 percent of the
state suffers from "exceptional" drought, the most extreme
SLIGHT IMPROVEMENT IN MIDWEST
Drought conditions in the Midwest showed incremental
improvement in the last week, with recent storms bringing
welcome moisture to northern Illinois, the No. 2 corn state, and
The Drought Monitor showed that 8.9 percent of Illinois was
in severe drought as of Jan. 1, a drop from 9.29 percent the
previous week and down from more than 31 percent three months
In its three-month outlook, the Climate Prediction Center
said continued drought improvement is possible across the
Midwest and in northern tier states including Minnesota, North
Dakota and Montana.
However, concerns persist about historically low water
levels that may halt shipping on part of the Mississippi River,
a key artery for barges carrying grain from the Corn Belt to the
U.S. Gulf Coast.
The snowpack in the Rocky Mountains, which eventually helps
supply moisture for the Mississippi, is below normal, said Mark
Svoboda, a climatologist with the University of Nebraska's
National Drought Mitigation Center.
"They get most of that snow typically later in the winter.
But they are still running 20 to 30 percent below normal,"
Svoboda said. "That does not bode well for the Missouri Basin,
the Platte, the Arkansas - those feeders into the Mississippi
basin," he said.
RAINS AMELIORATE DROUGHT IN SOUTH
Drought conditions eased in the South after storms brought
two to four inches of rain from eastern Texas to the Carolinas,
the Drought Monitor report said. In Alabama, about one-third of
the state remained in moderate to extreme drought but the rain
eliminated the "exceptional" drought category that had covered
about 3.7 percent of the state a week earlier.
However, the report cautioned that long-term moisture
deficits persisted in the region, and dry weather continued
across much of western, central, and southern Texas.