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U.S. spring forecast warns of fires, drought

Drought conditions that have shriveled crops and sparked fires will persist and could even worsen across the Southwest and central and southern Plains through at least June, U.S. government forecasters said Thursday.
/ Source: Reuters

Drought conditions that have shriveled crops and sparked fires in bone-dry forests will persist and could even worsen across the Southwest and central and southern Plains through at least June, U.S. government forecasters said Thursday.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said in its spring weather forecast that these regions, which have already seen thousands of acres go up in flames, should brace for a "significant" wildfire season in 2006.

"April through June is typically dry in the Southwest, so drought will very likely persist or even worsen until the thunderstorm season arrives this summer," said Ed O'Lenic, meteorologist with NOAA's Climate Prediction Center.

Severe drought conditions are blanketing the Southwest into the southern Plains and northward into Kansas. Heavy rains have eased dryness for now in Illinois, Iowa extending south to Arkansas. But weather forecasters said "ongoing drought concerns may linger."

A scarcity of rain since last fall has parched hard red winter wheat and dried up stock ponds and pastures in the southern Plains. A storm expected to drop up to 2.5 inches of rain this weekend in the Great Plains could be too late to save the winter wheat crop, government forecasters said.

"It kind of remains to be seen how much recovery there will be in wheat. Some of that wheat is getting to ... frankly the point of no return" said Brad Rippey, a USDA meteorologist.

"But for just about everything else including pre-planting moisture for summer crops, pasture revival, wildfire control, the rain is nothing but good," he said.

Improved soil moisture will bode well for U.S. soft red winter areas while providing much-needed relief for corn and soybean crops later this spring.

Spring also will bring above normal temperatures for the Southwest eastward into the Southeast with cooler-than-normal conditions for the northern Plains and northern Rockies.

Below-normal precipitation is expected for much of the central and southern Plains, as well as the Southeast and Gulf Coast. Above normal precipitation is favored across the northern Plains and Great Lakes region.