By Sam Nelson
CHICAGO (Reuters) - Rain is still forecast for next week in western portions of the drought-stressed U.S. Midwest but in lighter quantities than originally expected, an agricultural meteorologist said on Wednesday.
"The biggest change is less rain in Iowa, northern Missouri, western Illinois, Minnesota and Wisconsin than earlier runs showed," said Drew Lerner, meteorologist for World Weather Inc.
The worst drought in over half a century is ravaging crops across the U.S. Corn Belt, and precipitation next week will likely offer less relief to already damaged corn and soybean fields than earlier forecasts had projected.
Lerner said the morning weather maps indicated from 1.00 to 2.00 inches of rain possible in that major crop growing area by early next week, but midday maps indicated "no more than 0.25 inch."
"Hot weather will return to that area, too, next week," he said, with highs back to the upper 90s to 100 degrees Fahrenheit (32 to 38 degrees Celsius).
No major changes from the morning forecasts were noted in the rest of the crop belt, with the exception of some heavier rains expected in portions of the far eastern Midwest.
"There is a lot more rain for Kentucky and Tennessee. We now expect 2 to 3 inches there, but that isn't in the major crop area," Lerner said.
Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT) soybean futures prices were down nearly 3 percent near midday on the early forecasts for showers. Corn was down over 2 percent.
Prices for both commodities were driven to record highs in July as the drought ate away at prospects for the crops which are planted in the spring and harvested in the autumn.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Monday rated 24 percent of the corn crop in good-to-excellent condition as of Sunday, and 29 percent of the soybean crop in good-to-excellent shape, both down 2 percentage points from the previous week.
The ratings for each were the worst since the comparable week in 1988, another year of severe drought in the nation's midsection.
The domestic corn crop likely shrunk another 2.5 percent over the past week, but the modest decline suggested damage from drought may be nearing an end, a Reuters poll of analysts showed on Tuesday.
(Reporting By Sam Nelson; editing by Jim Marshall)