March 1, 2013 / 2:36 PM / in 5 years

Snow and rain shrink drought area of U.S. crop belt

* Light snow on Friday with more to come next week
    * Back-to-back February blizzards boost wheat crop prospects

    By Sam Nelson
    CHICAGO, March 1 (Reuters) - Light snow fell in much of the
drought-stricken U.S. Plains and Midwest crop region early
Friday with a bigger storm forecast for late next week,
shrinking the area hit by the worst dry spell in 50 years.
    Agricultural meteorologists said on Friday that the more
significant storm forecast for next week and early the following
week will bring more needed moisture to the central and
southeast Plains, Delta, southern and eastern Midwest.
    "It will cover much of the Plains and the dry areas in the
Midwest," said Don Keeney, meteorologist for MDA EarthSat
    Keeney said the heaviest snowfall would occur in west
central Nebraska, northwest Kansas and eastern Colorado but the
rain would extend into the southern Plains areas including
Okahoma and Texas. He said normal precipitation was expected in
the second week of March in the central and eastern Midwest, but
 it would be drier in the Plains.
    Commodity Weather Group said on Friday that about 2 inches
(5 cm) to 6 inches (15 cm) of snow would scatter from the
Northen Plains into the eastern Midwest by Monday.
    "This could bring some slight moisture improvements to the
Dakotas, southern Minnesota and northern Iowa," said CWG
meteorologist Joel Widenor.
    He said a slighter wetter forecast is seen for Nebraska and
Iowa and moisture amounts will be a bit heavier than expected
earlier in the Plains ranging from 0.25 inch (0.6 cm) to 1.25
inches (3.2 cm).
    The much-needed moisture comes on the heels of two blizzards
that slammed into the Plains hard red winter wheat region in
late February, dumping up to 20 inches (51 cm) of snow or up to
1.5 inches (3.8 cm) of moisture in the Texas and Oklahoma
Panhandle wheat belt. 
    The blizzards boosted wheat crop prospects but also hampered
cattle feeding operations with feedlot managers reporting weight
losses of up to 100 pounds per animal.
    Meteorologists said the significant winter rainfall and snow
have so far eliminated the drought, the worst in 50 years in the
United States, in an area roughly from Illinois eastward.
    But more moisture will be needed in April and May to nurse
the winter wheat crop to maturity and to aid the
soon-to-be-seeded corn and soybean crops, meteorologists and
crop experts have said.
    Keeney said that as of early February, roughly 4 inches (10
cm) to 6 inches (15 cm) of rain were needed in Kansas, the top
producer of hard red winter wheat, to bring the state out of
drought status. 
    Up to 8 inches (20 cm) were needed in a pocket of severe
dryness in northeastern Kansas, a big corn- and grain
sorghum-growing area. Similar amounts were needed in Nebraska,
Texas, Oklahoma, Iowa and Missouri and northern Illinois and

 (Editing by Grant McCool)
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