By Sam Nelson
CHICAGO (Reuters) - Widespread rainfall expected over the weekend in the U.S. Midwest may help stabilize falling water levels on key river shipping routes in the United States, but more rain will be needed to bring water levels back to normal, an agricultural meteorologist said on Friday.
The moisture also may help slow deterioration of conditions in the U.S. Plains hard red winter wheat region and in portions of the dry Delta/Southeast soft red winter wheat region.
Light showers are expected in most of the dry U.S. Plains hard red winter wheat region Friday and Saturday, but little relief is expected from the worst drought in more than 50 years, said World Weather Inc meteorologist Andy Karst.
"Most areas will receive 0.25 inch to 0.35 inch, with the heaviest amounts in the east," he said. "It may help some."
Karst said the storm system would also bring rain to the Midwest late Friday into the weekend, with up to an inch possible in some areas from northern Missouri, Iowa, southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois.
"It may help stabilize water levels on the Missouri and Mississippi, but it won't be enough to eliminate the barge shipping problem," Karst said. The showers will extend into the Delta and Southeast later in the weekend, he said.
The summer drought, billed as the worst in the United States in 56 years, and a continued lack of moisture into the fall months has caused U.S. winter wheat conditions to decline and has dropped water levels on the Mississippi River to a point that barge shipments have been slowed or stopped.
Barge operators eased shipping restrictions early this week on the lower Mississippi after rains last weekend lifted water levels, but shipping curbs, which have created a backlog of vessels, continued on a critical stretch further north.
(Reporting by Sam Nelson; Additional reporting by Tom Polansek in Chicago; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)