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Modest drought relief seen in U.S.; wheat winterkill eyed

By Sam Nelson

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Some modest relief is expected this week from the worst drought in over 50 years in the U.S. crop belt and volatile weather patterns are shifting attention to potential harm or winterkill in the U.S. Plains hard red winter wheat region, meteorologists said on Tuesday.

Heavy rainfall is expected this week in the U.S. Delta extending into central Texas and the showers will move into portions of the southern Midwest, an agricultural meteorologist said on Tuesday.

"The strong storm system will begin late today and tomorrow and push into Missouri and central and southern Illinois by Thursday," said Don Keeney, meteorologist for MDA EarthSat Weather.

Keeney said from 2.00 to 4.00 inches of rain could be expected in Arkansas, Louisiana and east Texas with lighter amounts of an inch or less in Oklahoma.

Warmer weather this week will melt the snowcover in the U.S. Plains, leaving the hard red red winter crop unprotected from potential harm from a cold snap.

"It will turn cold Sunday and Monday with zero (degrees Fahrenheit) to below zero readings in western Nebraska and northern Colorado, so that's on the winterkill threshold," Keeney said.

Commodity Weather Group (CWG) meteorologist Joel Widenor also cited increasing showers later Tuesday through Friday in the Southern Plains into the southern and eastern Midwest and Delta.

"This will bring some slight improvement in soil moisture for the Southern Plains but only very light showers are expected in the drought areas of the western Midwest and Central Plains," Widenor said.

CWG meteorologists on Tuesday were not too concerned about threats of winterkill in the Plains winter wheat region.

"There are no winterkill threats through the next two weeks, with the 11 to 15 day outlook trending milder today (Tuesday)," Widenor said.

The weekly U.S. drought monitor report from last week showed snowfull in parts of the U.S. Plains had little impact on the historic drought gripping the region, but parts of Illinois, Wisconsin and the Southeast showed slight improvement.

The report issued last Thursday said as of January 1 42.05 percent of the contiguous United States was in severe to exceptional drought, down from 42.45 percent the previous week.

The consortium of federal and state climatology experts are expected to issue a new drought report late this week.

(Additional reporting by Julie Ingwersen in Chicago; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

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