Showers help relieve U.S. drought; cold snap ahead
* Showers, some snow for Midwest and Plains
* Moisture providing more relief from drought
* Cold snap not seen harming crops
CHICAGO, March 18 (Reuters) - Scattered showers are expected in the northern and eastern U.S. Midwest over the next 24 hours followed by drier and colder weather into the middle of next week, an agricultural meteorologist said on Monday.
"Temperatures will be below average, it's still too early to worry about delays in plantings but it is that time of year that you would rather have soils warming up," said John Dee, a meteorologist for Global Weather Monitoring.
Dee said the coldest readings in the Midwest and in the Plains would fall into the teens (degrees Fahrenheit) to the 20s F and 30s F.
"There is nothing threatening for crops, just colder than average for this time of year," he said.
Dee said showers would cover much of Kansas and northern Oklahoma Thursday and Friday, and on Sunday there would be snow in most of Kansas, Oklahoma and northern Texas.
From 0.2 inch to 0.5 inch of rain can be expected late in the week and from 1 to 5 inches of snow late in the weekend, he said. "There is more welcome moisture, added relief from drought and below average temperatures, but no threat to crops," Dee said.
Drought continued to retreat in many areas of the U.S. Plains as snow and rainfall replenished parched soils and gave farmers and ranchers an improved outlook for crop and livestock conditions, according to a report issued on Thursday.
Many U.S. states saw improvement in drought conditions, but eight states continued to suffer from the worst level of drought, dubbed "exceptional" by the Drought Monitor in a report issued by a consortium of state and federal climatologists each week.
Don Keeney, a meteorologist for MDA Weather Services said that as of March 9, about 2 to 4 inches (5 to 10 cm) of rain was needed in Kansas, the top producer of hard red winter wheat, to bring the state out of drought status.
That was an improvement from early February when about 4 inches to 6 inches (10 to 15 cm) of rain was needed.
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 nearly the eastern third of Nebraska.
Northwest Iowa and south-central Minnesota needed from 4 to 6 inches (10 to 15 cm) to get soils back to normal moisture levels.
Near-normal soil moisture was seen in most of Missouri and all of Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio and Michigan.
(Reporting by Sam Nelson; Editing by Maureen Bavdek)