Blizzard a blessing for drought-stricken U.S.

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Snow and sleet mixed with snow were moving into northern Illinois early on Tuesday, and the snowstorm will bring more valuable moisture to dry areas of the U.S. Midwest, including Minnesota, eastern Iowa, northern Illinois into Indiana and Ohio, an agricultural meteorologist said.

"It's a pretty big storm and will bring 4 to 8 inches of snow, up to maybe a foot in some areas," said Andy Karst, meteorologist for World Weather Inc.

Karst said warmer temperatures this week in the Plains and western Midwest would melt much of the snowcover that stemmed from a pair of big blizzards in late February, adding crop-friendly moisture to the drought-stricken hard red winter wheat region and the western corn and soybean belt.

"There is a weaker storm for the Plains by this weekend, leaving 0.05 to 0.30 inch of rain, with heavier amounts in north central Kansas and eastern Nebraska," he said.

Commodity Weather Group (CWG) meteorologist Joel Widenor said snowfall totals so far on Tuesday were from 3 to 6 inches, with up to a foot received in North Dakota. Another storm is expected in the Plains by the weekend.

"The weekend storm will bring significant moisture of a half inch up to 1.50 inches in the central and southeastern Plains and much of the Midwest," Widenor said.

However, lighter amounts of rain are expected from southwestern Kansas into West Texas, he said.

Winter wheat conditions improved across much of the U.S. Plains last week following heavy snow that provided a much-needed boost to soil moisture in areas that have been suffering from drought, according to the U.S. Agriculture Department's National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS).

Meteorologists said the significant winter rainfall and snow had 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.

Don Keeney, meteorologist for MDA Earthsat Weather, 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 Indiana.

(Reporting by Sam Nelson; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)

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