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Minimal relief coming to U.S. Plains drought area

By Sam Nelson

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Dry weather continues in the far western portion of the drought-stricken U.S. Plains while crop-friendly rainfall is moving into the west-central and southeast Midwest, an agricultural meteorologist said on Tuesday.

"There will be a lot of rain in the Midwest and northern Delta today and tomorrow and the rain will spread into the southeast Plains ... eastern Kansas and eastern Oklahoma," said Don Keeney, a meteorologist for MDA EarthSat Weather.

Keeney said there should be some light snowfall in North Central Kansas and South Central Nebraska on Tuesday then it will turn dry for the rest of the week in the balance of the Midwest and Plains.

Another cold snap is poised to move into the U.S. Midwest and Plains late in the week, dropping temperatures to zero (degrees Fahrenheit) in some areas but "there should be no threat of winterkill damage," Keeney said.

Winter wheat conditions across the Plains worsened in January as the drought in that key production region showed no signs of ending, according to reports by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) issued on Monday.

In Kansas, the top winter wheat-production state in the country, the crop was rated 20 percent good to excellent as of January 27, down 4 percentage points from the end of December.

No areas of the state received more than an inch of moisture during the past month, according to NASS's Kansas field office. Temperatures around the state averaged 2 to 5 degrees above normal, which further depleted moisture supplies in the soil.

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, meteorologists and other crop experts have said.

A climatology report issued last Thursday said there were no signs of improvement for Kansas or neighboring farm states.

Roughly 57.64 percent of the contiguous United States was in at least "moderate" drought as of January 22, an improvement from 58.87 percent a week earlier, according to last Thursday's Drought Monitor report by a consortium of federal and state climatology experts.

(Additional reporting by Mark Weinraub in Chicago and Carey Gillam in Kansas City; Editing by Maureen Bavdek)

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