CHICAGO (Reuters) - Light snow expected next week in crop growing areas of the United States will provide only minor relief from the worst drought in more than 50 years, an agricultural meteorologist said on Friday.
Crop-killing drought deepened in Kansas over the last week, further jeopardizing this season's production of the important winter wheat crop. Kansas is generally the top U.S. wheat-growing state, but the new crop planted last fall has been struggling with a lack of soil moisture.
Without rain and/or heavy snow before spring, millions of acres of wheat could be ruined, meteorologists said. A climatology report issued on Thursday said there were no signs of improvement for Kansas or neighboring farm states.
Agricultural meteorologist Joel Widenor of the Commodity Weather Group said on Friday that light snow in the eastern part of the Midwest region and expected snow next week for parts of the U.S. Plains, Midwest and Delta would be too light for notable drought relief.
"The outlook is a bit drier in the northwest Midwest as well," Widenor said.
He said cold weather is expected to continue into mid-week next week but winterkill risks to wheat and frost threats to Florida citrus remain low.
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 Thursday's Drought Monitor report by a consortium of federal and state climatology experts.
But the worst level of drought, dubbed "exceptional," expanded slightly to 6.36 percent, up from 6.31 percent of the country.
Officials in north-central Oklahoma this month declared a state of emergency due to record-low reservoir conditions. Public and private interests throughout the central United States were examining measures to cope with the drought.
The government on January 9 declared much of the central and southern U.S. Wheat Belt a natural disaster area.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture made growers in large portions of four major wheat-growing states -- Kansas, Colorado, Oklahoma and Texas -- eligible for low-interest emergency loans.
Additional reporting by Carey Gillam in Kansas City; Editing by Grant McCool