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Rains bring relief, but key areas still parched

Many areas of the drought-stricken United States continued to see improvement over the last week as steady rains started recharging parched soils, but for key agricultural areas of the heartland, there was little relief, a climatology report issued Thursday said.

"We've seen some improvement . . . but the impact of the drought and the dryness is far from over," said Brian Fuchs, a climatologist at the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln.

Roughly 61.8 percent of the contiguous United States was suffering from at least "moderate" drought as of Oct. 23, down from 62.4 percent a week earlier, according to Thursday's Drought Monitor, a weekly compilation of data gathered by federal and academic scientists.

The portion of the United States under "exceptional" drought -- the most dire classification -- held steady at 5.8 percent and was mostly in western Kansas and Nebraska. Areas that saw good improvement over the last week include Illinois, Missouri, Minnesota and Iowa.

In the High Plains, which include Kansas, Nebraska and the Dakotas, severe or worse drought levels covered 84.9 percent of the region, down from 87.42 percent the week before. About 27.4 percent of the region was still in the worst level of drought, unchanged from a week earlier.

Nebraska is the worst hit state, with 77.6 percent of the state in exceptional drought, unchanged from a week earlier. Winter wheat farmers who have planted or are wrapping up planting their new crop will need significant rainfall and/or snow to provide enough moisture to become healthy. In Kansas, the largest hard red winter wheat producing state, "extreme" drought, the second-worst level, held steady at 77.8 percent of the state.

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