Little sign of easing in US's big dry

Snowfall in parts of the US Plains last week had little impact on historic drought gripping the region, but parts of northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin showed slight improvement, weather experts said.

A weekly report issued Thursday by a consortium of federal and state climatology experts said that as of Jan. 1, 42.05 per cent of the contiguous United States was in severe to exceptional drought, down from 42.45 per cent the previous week.

Parts of the central Plains received snow in the last week, providing some much-needed protection for the region's dormant winter wheat crop before temperatures plunged at the end of December.

However, the snow was insufficient and did not offer much drought relief, according to the weekly US Drought Monitor report.

"Precipitation in Oklahoma had little impact on reservoir and lake levels, and agricultural reports indicated that soil moisture remained depleted and the condition of small grains and canola across the state continued to deteriorate," the report said.

Earlier this week, the US Department of Agriculture said that in Kansas, the top wheat producing state, 24 per cent of the crop was rated in good to excellent condition as of Dec. 30, a drop from 29 per cent at the end of November. USDA attributed the decline to limited moisture.

In Nebraska, only 14 per cent of the winter wheat crop was rated good and zero per cent excellent, compared with 74 per cent a year earlier for those categories combined.

In a seasonal outlook released Thursday, the US Climate Prediction Center said extreme to exceptional drought was likely to persist across the Plains for the next three months.

Slight improvement in midwest

Drought conditions in the Midwest showed incremental improvement in the last week, with recent storms bringing welcome moisture to northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin.

The Drought Monitor showed that 8.9 per cent of Illinois was in severe drought as of Jan. 1, a drop from 9.29 per cent the previous week and down from more than 31 per cent three months ago.

In its three-month outlook, the Climate Prediction Center said continued drought improvement is possible across the Midwest and in northern tier states including Minnesota, North Dakota and Montana.

Illinois is the No. 2 US producer of corn and soybeans, and farmers in the Midwest are monitoring soil moisture conditions ahead of spring planting. USDA said that as of Dec. 30, subsoil moisture was short to very short in two-thirds of the state.

As a result of drought, water levels on the Mississippi River are approaching historic lows, impeding the transit of grain-bearing barges from the Corn Belt to the US Gulf Coast export terminal.