By Sam Nelson
CHICAGO (Reuters) - The drought-stricken U.S. Midwest crop region has a better chance for rains next week than earlier forecasts indicated, an agricultural meteorologist said Thursday.
"The biggest change is for improved rainfall amounts next week starting at mid-week. Most of the Midwest will receive some rains of 0.75 to 1.25 inches, with local areas getting up to 3.00 inches," said Andy Karst, a meteorologist for World Weather Inc. "Previously it looked like 0.25 to 0.75 inch."
After weeks of relentless heat stress from the worst U.S. drought in more than half a century, deteriorating corn and soybean crops were getting some relief by light rains during the past few days.
"This week we saw a decline in drought in the lower 48 states for the third week in a row, but the overall decline was small," said Brian Fuchs, a climatologist for the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska.
"Last week drought covered 62.46 percent of the area, and this week 61.77 percent was in drought," he said.
Fuchs said the weekly Drought Monitor released on Thursday showed a one-in-50-year drought was under way in the United States, and no significant letup was in sight from the devastating impact on crops and livestock.
The moderating weather this week and next week came too late to help much of the corn crop which had been planted early and bore the brunt of high heat and drought this summer. Some late-planted soybeans may benefit from the turn to cooler and damper weather.
Cooler temperatures were keeping the evaporation rates lower than the rapid disappearance of moisture during the hottest July ever.
Temperatures should remain in the 70s to 80s degrees Fahrenheit Thursday through the middle of next week, then rise to the low 90s, Karst said.
Commodity Weather Group (CWG) on Thursday said better-than-expected rains of a half to one inch were received in Iowa and Wisconsin on Wednesday. Showers would move across the Midwest later in the week.
However, more than a third of the Midwest's soybean belt remained under stress from drought, including parts of central Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, central and southeastern South Dakota and a few spots in western Iowa, CWG said.
Still, the moisture will provide little benefit to crops that already have been severely damaged by the heat wave, according to CWG.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's weekly crop progress report released on Monday showed that domestic corn conditions stabilized after nine weeks of ratings declines, and soybean crop conditions improved slightly.
However, the ratings for each crop remained at their lowest levels since the last serious drought in 1988.
As the worst drought in more than a half century took its toll, investors went on a buying spree, boosting corn prices more than 50 percent from late May to record highs above $8 per bushel.
The USDA last Friday released data showing deep cuts for this year's corn and soybean output as the drought spread through America's bread basket.
The agency said the 2012 corn crop would fall below 11.0 billion bushels for the first time in six years and the number of bushels yielded per acre was at a 17-year low. Soybean production was forecast at a five-year low and soy yield per acre at nearly a 10-year low.
Analysts and crop experts said additional cuts may be seen in future reports.
(Reporting By Sam Nelson)