* Forecasts shift back to drier pattern
* Light moisture seen mainly for Nebraska
* Top wheat state Kansas to stay mostly dry
By Sam Nelson
CHICAGO, Feb 6 A shift back to drier weather is
expected in most of the key wheat growing areas of the
drought-stricken U.S. Great Plains hard red winter wheat region,
an agricultural meteorologist said on Wednesday.
Early in the week there had been outlooks for significant
rain and/or snow in much of the region which would have given
the battered wheat crop a welcome dousing, but patterns have
changed to a drier mode, he said.
"There will be a storm system this weekend and another one
early next week but the moisture will favor Nebraska and away
from the large wheat acreage areas," said Andy Karst,
meteorologist for World Weather Inc.
Karst said Nebraska may receive a half-inch of moisture with
lighter amounts elsewhere in the Plains states.
"Confidence is increasing that Kansas won't see much from
the weekend storm," he said.
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, according to
meteorologists and other crop experts.
The unrelenting drought gripping key farming states in the
U.S. Plains shows no sign of abating, and it will take a deluge
of snow or rain to restore critical moisture to farmland before
spring planting of new crops, a climate expert said.
"It's not a pretty picture," said climatologist Mark Svoboda
of the University of Nebraska's Drought Mitigation Center.
Precipitation in the Plains region has been 3 inches to 6
inches shy of normal levels since October, and some areas are
nearly 16 inches short of much-needed moisture over the last
nine months, Svoboda said.
The drought that last year ranked as the worst in roughly 50
years is still entrenched in the nation's mid-section. This
month was considered the worst January in terms of drought over
the 13 years that a consortium of federal and state climatology
experts have been monitoring drought levels and issuing regular
"Drought Monitor" reports, Svoboda added.
"The January number is the highest amount of coverage for
the U.S. since we've been doing this," he said.
Last week's Drought Monitor report showed severe drought
still gripping 87.25 percent of the High Plains, unchanged from
the prior week. Fully 100 percent of the land area in Kansas,
Colorado, Nebraska and Oklahoma remained engulfed in severe
drought or worse, according to the Drought Monitor.
A new drought report is expected to be released on Thursday.
The Plains states are key crop production areas,
particularly for hard red winter wheat, an important
bread-making crop. They are also critical areas for cattle and
other livestock production.
Overall, 57.68 percent of the contiguous United States was
in at least "moderate" drought as of Jan. 29, a slightly worse
situation than the previous week's tally of 57.64 percent.
Exceptional drought expanded slightly to 6.37 percent, up from
6.36 percent of the country.
(Additional reporting by Carey Gillam in Kansas City; Editing
by Theodore d'Afflisio)