* Rains keep skipping drought-plagued wheat
* Cold snap not seen harming crops
* Midwest rains lift Mississippi River water level
By Sam Nelson
CHICAGO, Jan 31 The chief bread-making wheat
grown in the western U.S. Plains states of Kansas, Oklahoma,
Texas, Colorado and Nebraska is expected to continue struggling
through the worst drought in over 50 years into early February
and perhaps longer, an agricultural meteorologist said on
Dry weather is expected to persist in the western U.S.
Plains hard red winter wheat region and a cold snap late this
week isn't likely to harm any of the winter wheat crop, said
Andy Karst, meteorologist for World Weather Inc.
"There's not much rain or snow for hard red winter wheat
country for the next week to 10 days," Karst said.
Winter wheat conditions across the Plains worsened in
January as the drought in that key production region showed no
signs of ending, according to reports by the U.S. Department of
Agriculture's National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS)
issued on Monday.
Without rain or heavy snow before spring, millions of acres
of wheat could be ruined, while corn and soybean seedings could
be threatened in the western Midwest, meteorologists and other
crop experts have said.
A climatology report issued last Thursday said there were no
signs of improvement for Kansas or neighboring farm
Roughly 57.64 percent of the contiguous United States was in
at least "moderate" drought as of Jan. 22, an improvement from
58.87 percent a week earlier, according to last Thursday's
Drought Monitor report by a consortium of federal and state
An updated drought report is expected to be released late on
TEMPERATURES PLUNGE AGAIN; RIVER WATER LEVEL RISES
Wild swings in temperatures have been occurring over the
past two weeks in America's heartland and another blast of
Arctic air currently is moving into the crop-growing regions.
Karst said the coldest weather late this week would be in
the northern Plains states of North Dakota and Minnesota with
lows of 20 to 30 degrees below zero (Fahrenheit) in the Red
River Valley. Lows in the single digits are expected elsewhere,
but "there shouldn't be any winterkill damage," he said.
Karst said rainfall in the Midwest this week boosted water
levels on the Mississippi River, the main water shipping route
for commodities in the United States.
The drought and lack of rainfall and/or snow melt over the
winter had dropped river water levels to a point that led to
restricted barge loadings and movement on the river.
"There should be no new restrictions for the next two weeks,
this is the best the river has looked for a long time," he said.
However, more than 1,000 barges were backed up on the river
on Wednesday after a weekend barge accident and oil spill forced
closure of the river, the U.S. Coast Guard said.
There were no estimates when the oil spill would be cleared
to allow normal transport of grain, oil and other commodities
down the Mississippi.
(Additional by Mark Weinraub and Karl Plume in Chicago. Carey
Gillam in Kansas City; Editing by Nick Zieminski)