(Reuters) - Drought loosened its grip on the southern U.S. Plains over the past week after moderate to heavy rains across Texas and surrounding states, although rainfall totals over the past six months remained below normal, according to climate experts.
Meanwhile, drought intensified in parts of the Southeast amid below-normal rainfall, according to the Drought Monitor weekly climatology report issued on Thursday by a consortium of U.S. climate experts.
About a fifth of Texas, which saw records shattered for both heat and lack of moisture last year, remained under exceptional drought, the most severe category, though conditions have steadily improved.
The percentage of the state under exceptional drought slipped to 20.41 percent by February 14 from 23.12 percent the previous week and 65.11 percent three months earlier, according to the Drought Monitor.
Conditions in neighboring Oklahoma, Kansas and Louisiana, all key crop producing states, were virtually unchanged from a week ago and considerably better than three months ago.
But as the southern Plains emerged from drought, the Southeast slipped further into it.
The region, which includes Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Virginia and the Carolinas, was 40.41 percent under severe to exceptional drought, compared with 28.62 percent at the start of the year.
The worst-hit areas were the Florida panhandle, southeast Alabama, and southern sections of Georgia and South Carolina.
Exceptional drought covered 34.06 percent of Georgia, up from 29.54 percent a week ago, and 12.13 percent of South Carolina, up from 7.16 percent a week ago. About 5 percent of Florida and Alabama were in the most severe category.
None of the region had been classified as under exceptional drought at the beginning of the year, but the region has received less than half of its normal rainfall over the last 60 days, according to climate experts.
(Reporting by Karl Plume in Chicago)