* Dryness to affect crops, water transportation
* Cold snap also puts pressure on crop prospects
By Sam Nelson
Jan 15 Forecasts for a return to dry weather for
the balance of January in the already drought-stricken U.S.
western Midwest and Plains are renewing worries among
agriculture interests following the worst drought in more than
50 years in 2012.
"Dry weather will prevail in core drought areas of the
western Midwest and Central Plains through the last half of
January," said Joel Widenor, agricultural meteorologist for
Commodity Weather Group. "This will also prevent any long-term
stabilization in river levels in the middle Mississippi River
Heavy rainfall over the weekend in the southern Midwest
provided much-needed soil moisture in some areas and also
boosted river water levels, an agricultural meteorologist said
However, the western Midwest and Plains States, areas where
nearly all of the U.S. hard red winter wheat is grown, remained
dry, and there are no forecasts for drought-relieving rain or
Rainfall over the weekend was concentrated in the southern
and southeast Midwest and helped boost river shipping prospects
on the main U.S. waterway, the Mississippi River.
"It certainly was welcome and lifted the water level south
of St. Louis," said Don Keeney, meteorologist for MDA EarthSat
Weather. "The only problem now is it looks dry for about two
weeks, so water levels will be receding again."
Two to four inches of rain, and up to five inches in some
areas, were received over a broad area of the U.S. Delta and
southern Midwest, he said.
Keeney said a cold snap this week may have caused some minor
winterkill in areas of western Nebraska, and a blast of cold
Arctic air is expected next week centered on the Midwest.
"It will drop to the single digits in the north, so this
will need to be watched for some possible harm to some wheat,"
he said. The bitter cold will not reach into the U.S. Plains
hard red winter wheat region, he added.
The U.S. Plains remained tightly gripped by a severe
drought, according to a report issued last week by a consortium
of federal and state climatology experts, and fears mounted that
another hot, dry year could lie ahead for key crop-growing and
The government declared much of the central and southern
U.S. Wheat Belt a natural disaster area last Wednesday due to
persistent drought threatening the winter wheat harvest.
In its first disaster declaration of the new year, the
Agriculture Department made growers in large portions of four
major wheat-growing states - Kansas, Colorado, Oklahoma and
Texas - eligible for low-interest emergency loans.
(Reporting By Sam Nelson; editing by John Wallace)