By Sam Nelson
CHICAGO (Reuters) - Rains over the weekend across most of the U.S. Midwest corn and soybean growing region, and forecasts for more rain this week, will help relieve stress on crops, an agricultural meteorologist said Monday.
"It's an improved forecast, not a perfect one," said John Dee, meteorologist for Global Weather Monitoring. "I wasn't so surprised about the amounts of rain, but the 85 percent coverage was better than expected."
The midday weather update showed little change in the expected precipitation for this week, while temperatures turned a little cooler for the U.S. Midwest and Plains, said Steve Silver, a meteorologist with Cropcast, a division of MDA EarthSat weather.
The biggest changes in the midday U.S. computer forecasting model came in the 11- to 15-day period, he said.
"It is much warmer than the earlier run, especially in the northern and central Plains and the northwestern Midwest -- and notably drier across the central and southern Plain into much of the southern and eastern Midwest," Silver said.
The worst drought in more than half a century has caused serious harm to the U.S. corn crop, reducing yield and export prospects, and is beginning to cut into soybean production prospects.
Cooler temperatures and showers came too late to help much of the corn crop, crop specialists say, but soybeans -- a later maturing crop -- will benefit from the recent rains.
From 0.20 to 0.80 inch of rain, with locally heavier amounts, fell on about 85 percent of the Midwest over the weekend. More rain was forecast for Wednesday and Thursday.
The Midwest was nearing the end of the extreme heat, while hot weather remained worrisome in the Southwest.
"A good chunk of the Midwest will get a welcome break from the heat late this week and early next week with highs in the 80s degrees Fahrenheit," Dee said. "The rains and cooler temperatures will help but not end the problem," he said.
Chicago Board of Trade corn and soybeans soared to record highs in July due to the drought-related crop reductions. Prices have been falling so far in early August.
Commodity Weather Group on Monday said the weekend rains favored about half of the Midwest, but nearly a third of the soybean growing area would remain dry.
USDA will release its weekly crop condition report later Monday afternoon. This summer's corn and soybean crops are in their worst condition since the last big U.S. drought of 1988.
Nearly two-thirds of the contiguous United States were suffering from some level of drought as of July 31, more than a fifth of it classified as extreme drought or worse, according to the Drought Monitor, a weekly report compiled by U.S. climate experts.
(Additional reporting by Christine Stebbins in Chicago; Editing by John Picinich and Dan Grebler)