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U.S. drought has tight hold, snow not seen as big help

By Carey Gillam

(Reuters) - A snow storm moving through the Plains states into the U.S. Midwest brought much-needed moisture to drought-hit states, but drought has such a tight grip on the central U.S. that more moisture will be needed, according to weather experts.

"The snow is good, but in most instances it was less than one inch of liquid and if the soils are frozen, there will be little infiltration," said Brian Fuchs, climatologist with the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. "Welcomed, yes. A big changer to the overall drought, not really," Fuchs said.

A report issued Thursday by a consortium of federal and state climatology experts said that as of December 18, large swaths of the nation's midsection remained blanketed in extreme and exceptional levels of drought, the worst levels on the measurement scale.

Before the snow storm hit late Wednesday, nearly 27 percent of the High Plains, was considered in the very worst level of drought, exceptional drought. Indeed, "severe," and "extreme" levels of drought also crept higher over the last week, according to the Drought Monitor report.

Severe drought was spread over 86.20 percent of the High Plains, up from 86.12 percent the week before, while extreme drought area was pegged at 59.98 percent of the region, up from 58.39 percent. Exceptional drought was pegged at 26.99 percent, up from 26.91 percent.

Drought conditions were most pervasive in Nebraska, according to the Drought Monitor report.

Overall, roughly 61.79 percent of the contiguous United States was in at least "moderate" drought, a slight improvement from 61.87 percent a week earlier.

The portion of the contiguous United States under exceptional drought expanded, however, to 6.64 percent from 6.49 percent.

The winter storm that hit the region Wednesday night and Thursday brought snowfall of four to eight inches in parts of Nebraska and Kansas, with Iowa and Wisconsin also getting hit.

The storm is expected to move further east across the U.S. Midwest on Thursday, with as much as 12 inches of snow expected in southern Wisconsin.

(Reporting by Carey Gillam in Kansas City; Editing by Alden Bentley)

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