(Adds USDA, NOAA comments, detail from report)
By Christopher Doering
WASHINGTON, March 20 (Reuters) - U.S. farmers in the Midwest and Plains risk drought this summer while those in much of the eastern half of the U.S. could face flooding similar to what has battered the nation this week, government forecasters said on Thursday.
There is an “enhanced risk” of drought going into spring and even summer for the Corn Belt, largely because of a fading La Nina, said Doug Lecomte, a meteorologist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center.
But he added: “The first thing is to worry about getting rid of the wetness” that is “is unprecedented for this time of year.”
Lecomte said La Nina already has played a role in the water-logged conditions across the Midwest. While its impact is usually greatest in the winter, it could also bring drought to the Plains, expanding into the western Corn Belt this summer.
Drought conditions in the southeastern United States will improve, but drought is likely to develop or persist in western Texas, eastern New Mexico, western Kansas and Nebraska. Conditions also may persist or intensify in the western Dakotas.
The spring forecast covers the April through June period.
Government forecasters said a moderate La Nina will linger through June before weakening. La Nina is an unusual cooling of Pacific Ocean surface temperatures that can trigger widespread changes in weather around the world.
USDA meteorologist Brad Rippey said in an interview that the forecast for drier conditions should help farmers in the Midwest where many states — with the exception of Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota — are too wet.
“There may be some early field delays in the southern Corn Belt but there is time to reverse the pattern at this point and I don’t think it should be cause for alarm,” said Rippey.
Forecasters said a major concern this spring is the threat of flooding across much of the country as a result of record rainfall and melting snow packs, which are causing rivers and streams to overflow.
In recent days flooding has ravaged the central U.S. including Texas, Ohio and Missouri, with some areas receiving a foot of rain.
Above-normal flooding is possible in much of the Mississippi River basin, the Ohio River basin, the lower Missouri River basin, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, most of New York, all of New England, and portions of the West, including Colorado and Idaho.
“All the ingredients are there for major flooding if we have a significant rainfall like we had there in the Midwest,” said Joanna Dionne, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.
Most of the country will have an equal chance of precipitation, except for the Southwest from central and west Texas to Nevada where moisture will be below normal,
Warmer-than-normal weather will persist through June in Nevada, Utah and Colorado moving south into Texas and stretching east toward the Carolinas, Georgia and Florida. (Reporting by Christopher Doering; editing by Marguerita Choy)