Snowstorms and rains welcomed by drought-plagued U.S. farmers
* Snow and rain helping relieve drought stress
* More moisture expected by the weekend
CHICAGO, March 6 (Reuters) - Drought-relieving and crop-friendly snow fell on Tuesday from southern Minnesota and eastern Iowa into the Ohio River Valley, leaving a blanket of 5 to 10 inches of wet snow, an agricultural meteorologist said on Wednesday.
Additional moisture is expected later in the week that will provide more relief to bone dry soils following the worst drought in the United States in more than 50 years.
"A storm this weekend will bring rains to much of the central and southeastern Plains before moving into the Midwest and Delta," said Joel Widenor, a meteorologist for Commodity Weather Group (CWG).
The weekend storm will provide needed relief to Nebraska, northern Colorado, northern and eastern Kansas, Iowa and Missouri, he said.
"The southwestern third of the Plains will receive less moisture," Widenor said. Early fieldwork will be interrupted mainly in the Delta, where one-half to 1.5 inches of rain is likely, he said.
Winter wheat conditions improved across much of the U.S. Plains last week following heavy snow that provided a much-needed boost to soil moisture in areas that have been suffering from drought, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS).
Meteorologists said the significant winter snow and rain had so far eliminated the drought conditions in an area roughly from Illinois eastward.
But more moisture will be needed in April and May to nurse the winter wheat crop to maturity and aid the soon-to-be-seeded corn and soybean crops, meteorologists and crop experts have said.
Don Keeney, a meteorologist for MDA Earthsat Weather, said that as of early February, about 4 inches (10 cm) to 6 inches (15 cm) of rain was needed in Kansas, the top producer of hard red winter wheat, to bring the state out of drought status.
Up to 8 inches (20 cm) was needed in a pocket of severe dryness in northeastern Kansas, a big corn- and grain sorghum-growing area. Similar amounts were needed in Nebraska, Texas, Oklahoma, Iowa and Missouri and northern Illinois and Indiana.
(Reporting By Sam Nelson; Editing by Maureen Bavdek)