Rain and snow bring some relief to drought-hit U.S.

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Rains brought a respite to drought-hit areas of the South and Southeast, and pushed back drought in the western U.S. in the last week, but long-term forecasts still show threatening dry weather ahead, according to a drought report issued Thursday.

Heavy rains across portions of Georgia and Alabama improved fields for farmers and others who have been struggling with dryness. And a series of Pacific disturbances generated moderate to heavy rain and mountain snow from central California northward into the Pacific Northwest, according to the Drought Monitor climatology report released by a consortium of U.S. climate experts.

"We had some good precipitation," said Brian Fuchs, climatologist with the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska.

Texas and Oklahoma also got good rain, but need much more to overcome deep soil moisture deficits due to last year's historic drought.

"The long-term impacts of the drought from last summer are still being felt," said Fuchs.

Forecasts for the spring call for the weather to be warm and dry from California to the South and Southeast through at least March and possibly April, he said. Last year, drought caused billions of dollars in damages to crops, livestock, and timber, and wildfires destroyed thousands of acres, primarily across the U.S. South, with the epicenter of the damage in Texas.

Fears have mounted that drought will persist through 2012, which would significantly hinder crop and livestock production. In the Drought Monitor report issued Thursday, Texas drought levels were unchanged from the prior week, with 82.60 percent of the state considered in at least "severe" drought.

The one-year period between Nov. 1, 2010, and Oct. 31, 2011, was the driest in the state's history, and three-month period of June to August in Texas was the hottest ever reported by any state in U.S. history, according to state and federal climate experts. Moderate drought eased slightly in California, reported at 41.23 percent of the state, down from 46.34 percent a week prior, while abnormally dry conditions contracted to 80.88 percent of the state from 81.26 percent, the Drought Monitor said.

Nevada grew worse with 64.59 percent of the state now rated in moderate drought, up from 32.97 percent a week earlier. Georgia had 67.38 percent of the state rated in extreme drought or worse, down from 74.99 percent of the state a week earlier.

(Reporting by Carey Gillam; Editing by John Picinich)



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