Weekend snow expected to ease drought in U.S. crop belt

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An early spring snowstorm is expected to move in a broad swath from the U.S. Plains into the Midwest late Friday through the weekend, adding moisture to drought-depleted soils, an agricultural meteorologist said.

World Weather Inc meteorologist Andy Karst said cold weather will prevail in the U.S. crop belt over the next week with temperatures falling to the single digits to 20 degrees Fahrenheit.

"Wheat is probably not far enough along to be harmed plus there will be a good snow cover in areas where it's the coldest," Karst said.

The forecast called for a foot of snow in some areas, adding 0.25 inch to 0.60 inch of moisture. Meteorologists expect a common snowfall of 3 inches to 8 inches.

Karst said farmers could expect slow early seedings of corn in the U.S. southern Midwest due to cold and wet weather. "There won't be as much planting done in early April as usual, it's just going to be too cold and too wet, so there is increased concern about planting delays," he said.

Commodity Weather Group (CWG) on Friday said the showers and cool temperatures would slow the northward expansion of corn seeding into the first week of April for the northern Delta, Southeast, and along the Ohio River Valley.

Also, "the best chances for drought relief still focus on the Central Plains, but Iowa may also do a little better with snow from the near-term system," said CWG meteorologist Joel Widenor. "The southwestern third of the Plains wheat will miss most of the showers and see moisture levels decline."

Light rains have helped reduce severe and extreme drought conditions in portions of the U.S. Plains, but abnormally dry weather lingered in the area that produces most of the country's wheat, according to a weekly report issued on Thursday.

There was little rain in Texas, resulting in an expansion of the state's "exceptional" dryness, the worst conditions as classified by the Drought Monitor report issued by a consortium of state and federal climatologists.

But in the top wheat growing state of Kansas, "extreme" conditions moderated slightly even though the entire state as well as the entire High Plains region, outside of part of North Dakota, remains in a drought, the report stated.

The lack of rainfall and short top soil moisture levels could stress the wheat crop and reduce yields at harvest. The crop is ending its winter dormancy and recent below-normal temperatures may also harm the young plants.

In a separate report on Thursday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecast an easing of drought conditions and above-normal temperatures this spring in both the Plains and Midwest regions.

(Additional reporting by Michael Hirtzer in Chicago; Editing by Grant McCool)

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