Texas drought shrinks but dryness expands in Midwest
* Drought contracts in Texas, Oklahoma
* Drought overall for U.S. expands
* Iowa, Minnesota, Kansas, Missouri see drought grow
By Carey Gillam
Nov 3 (Reuters) - Drought conditions are improving in the U.S. South after significant rainfall through the region, though rangeland and pastures remain in poor shape and ranchers continue to struggle to feed hungry livestock.
And overall for the United States, drought levels did expand in the last week, with several states in the U.S. Midwest growing more dry, according to the Drought Monitor report issued by a team of federal and academic climatologists on Thursday.
The slight relief seen in the U.S. South is but a small step in many needed to return the region to normal, according to climatologists. In Texas, the most hard-hit by this year's drought, agricultural losses are estimated at more than $5 billion.
"The last 12-13 months were just so dry. That drought has a long way to go before it is completely gone," said Brian Fuchs, climatologist with the National Drought Mitigation Center with the University of Nebraska.
One chief concern now is for the health of the U.S. winter wheat crop, which is planted on millions of acres in Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas each fall. Farmers who have planted this year need good soil moisture to get healthy establishment of the crop before it goes into harsh winter conditions.
Drought is actually expanding in Kansas and other Midwestern states, according to the Drought Monitor report. Farmers who have been harvesting new corn and soybean crops have likely benefited some from dry conditions in recent weeks as it helps with harvest activities, said Fuchs. But they will need improved soil moisture before they can plant new crops in the spring.
The Drought Monitor stated that 90.42 percent of Texas State was now considered in extreme or exceptional drought. That was down from 90.87 percent a week earlier and the peak of the drought's grip on Texas - 96.99 percent of the state - for the Oct. 4 reported week.
The worst level of drought in Texas, exceptional drought, fell to 64.95 percent from 69.61 percent of the state, according to the Drought Monitor.
Drought Monitor map: droughtmonitor.unl.edu/ ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^>
Over the last week, Oklahoma also saw an improvement in the level of exceptional drought, which dropped to 42.87 percent from 54.84 of the state. And taking into account the second-worst level of drought, extreme drought, the dryness contracted to 85.48 percent from 86.26 percent.
Kansas saw severe and worse levels of drought expand to 13.47 percent of the states from 12.96 percent; Missouri saw the same categories grow to 14.57 percent of the state from 13.97 percent; Iowa saw the same categories of drought grow to 21.65 percent from 16.92 percent; and Minnesota severe and worse drought grew to 18.93 percent of the state from 17.26 percent, the Drought Monitor reported. (Reporting by Carey Gillam;editing by Sofina Mirza-Reid)
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