In the West, dry weather accompanies below-normal temperatures, although temperatures in winter agricultural areas in California and the Desert Southwest remain safely above freezing.

On the Plains, winter wheat conditions have generally deteriorated during the last month, except for some modest improvements in northern production areas. On December 30, Montana's wheat was rated 40% good to excellent, up from 29% on November 25. During the same 5-week period, the portion of the wheat rated very poor to poor increased from 44 to 61% in Oklahoma, 46 to 49% in Nebraska, and 25 to 31% in Kansas. Currently, cold, generally dry weather prevails across the nation's mid-section, although a shallow to moderately deep snow cover blankets large sections of the northern and central Plains.

In the Corn Belt, cold, dry weather prevails, except for some light snow across the far upper Midwest. A shallow to moderately deep snow cover blankets much of the Midwest, helping to insulate winter grains but hampering rural travel. At the end of December, 70% of the winter wheat in Illinois was rated in good to excellent condition.

In the South, colder air is overspreading northern and western portions of the region, in the wake of recent rainfall. Generally minor lowland flooding persists in the central Gulf Coast States, mainly in Mississippi and western Alabama. Showers continue across the lower Southeast, while mid-winter warmth prevails in Florida.

Outlook: Colder-than-normal conditions across the majority of the nation will be replaced by a late-week warming trend across the northern Plains and upper Midwest. By early next week, much of the U.S. will experience a return to above-normal temperatures, especially east of the Rockies. Meanwhile, relatively tranquil weather will prevail during the next several days across the majority of the country. Five-day precipitation totals will approach an inch in the Southeast, Pacific Northwest, and downwind of the Great Lakes, but little or no precipitation will fall from the Intermountain West and the Southwest into the Mississippi and Ohio Valleys. The NWS 6- to 10-day outlook for January 7-11 calls for near- to below-normal precipitation from the Pacific Coast to the High Plains, while wetterthan- normal weather will cover much of the eastern half of the U.S. Meanwhile, above-normal temperatures from the Plains to the Atlantic Seaboard will contrast with colder-than-normal conditions west of the Rockies.