By Christine Stebbins
CHICAGO (Reuters) - Scattered showers moved through the center of the U.S. Midwest crop belt by midday Friday, giving some relief to drought-stressed corn and soybeans, but more was needed to help the struggling crops, agricultural meteorologists said.
"You are seeing a little more rainfall going on now in parts of central and southwestern Iowa," said Joel Widenor of Commodity Weather Group, noting the amounts were more than had been expected earlier.
"There also is a little wetter trend in one of the short-range models for later on today in parts of central and northwestern Illinois, eastern Wisconsin," he said.
Friday's rains from central to southwestern Iowa, the top U.S. crop state, ranged from 0.25 to 1.25 inch, with the average at 0.5 inch, Widenor said.
However, the U.S. weather forecasting model updated at midday was warmer and drier than the morning run for the period starting late next week -- more in line with the European model, which is calling for the summer heat wave to continue, Widenor said.
Drew Lerner of World Weather Inc forecast said any relief would be but fleeting, with very warm weather and restricted rains expected over the next week.
Temperatures in the parched Midwest will remain in the mid-80s to upper 90s degrees Fahrenheit, with a few readings in the triple-digits, over the next week. Light rains of 0.25 to 0.75 inch should cover about three-quarters of the Midwest, forecasters said.
"There will be some heavier amounts in the southeast of 1 to 2 inches, but crop conditions and yields will keep declining," Lerner said.
The U.S. weather model had been flashing signs of improved rains in the Midwest, but Lerner said confidence was low in that forecast. The European weather model has been consistently dry.
"There will be some rains but it's so warm that there is a net drying effect, so crop stress is still the rule and yield potential will keep heading south," he said.
Nearly two-thirds of the nine-state Midwest was in some stage of drought in the week ended July 10, up from just over 50 percent a week earlier, according to the Drought Monitor, a weekly government report on drought throughout the country compiled by U.S. climate experts.
A third of the region was in severe to exceptional drought, up from the reading of about a quarter of the region that had been issued a week earlier.
Drought monitor map: droughtmonitor.unl.edu/
The Midwest drought prompted U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack this week to designate more than 1,000 counties across the Corn Belt as natural disaster areas, the largest single designation in the history of the USDA program, he said.
Deteriorating crop conditions, the worse since the drought of 1988, prompted USDA on Wednesday to slash its U.S. corn production forecasts by 12 percent to 12.970 billion bushels from its previous estimate of 14.790 billion and below the record crop of 13.1 billion bushels produced in 2009. USDA cut its U.S. soybean production estimate to 3.050 billion bushels, down from its previous forecast for 3.205 billion.
(Reporting by Sam Nelson and Christine Stebbins; Editing by John Picinich)