April 21, 2011 / 4:32 PM / 9 years ago

Drought eases with rains, but drought still dire

KANSAS CITY (Reuters) - Light rain loosened the grip of a devastating U.S. drought, but the moisture was missing or was too late for charred pastures and dried out wheat fields through the U.S. Southwest and Plains states.

“We still have a lot of severe drought,” said Mark Svoboda, climatologist with the National Drought Mitigation Center, which released its weekly drought analysis Thursday morning.

“Yeah there was a little bit of relief. But there has been a deficit of moisture for so long. Things are just not looking very good at all from Oklahoma down into Texas. That is the epicenter of this drought.”

Data issued Thursday by a consortium of national climate experts said 92 percent of Texas was suffering “severe drought,” with 68 percent in the worse conditions of “extreme drought” or “exceptional drought.” That is up from 60 percent a week ago in extreme and exceptional drought.

There was a slight alleviation of severe and extreme drought conditions in south-central to southeast Oklahoma and northeast Texas. But over much of the remaining region, drought conditions were maintained or even intensified.

Over the last week, the Oklahoma panhandle and parts of northern Texas, southeast Colorado, and southwest Kansas saw the introduction of extreme drought, according to the “Drought Monitor” report.

Rainfall is forecast over the next several days for parts of the Plains and into Texas, with perhaps 5 inches or more to fall in Oklahoma, according to forecasters.

Rain is badly needed for the maturing hard red winter wheat crop, a key bread-making crop and the largest class of U.S. wheat.

Cooler-than-normal temperatures in the Plains have also been helping preserve production potential for the wheat crop by slowing the crop’s growth.

But with summer approaching, temperatures will be climbing, making wheat and other crops ever more thirsty.

“Going forward it only gets hotter,” said Svoboda.

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