March 21 (Bloomberg) -- Drought may persist from California to Texas while improving slightly in the Great Plains as temperatures soar above normal across most of the U.S. from April through June, the Climate Prediction Center said.
The worst of the drought, an "exceptional" dryness that currently stretches across parts of the Plains from South Dakota to Oklahoma, may lessen by one level on a four-step scale, according to the seasonal forecast by the center in College Park, Maryland.
"The term ‘improvement’ means a reduction of at least one category," said Ed O’Lenic, chief of the center’s climate operations branch. "It doesn’t mean the drought is going to away."
While the next few weeks are expected to be cooler than normal across the eastern U.S., temperatures will rise by mid- April, according to the center.
"We are experiencing a very unusual cold pattern," O’Lenic said. "As the sun gets higher in the sky, that has to stop."
Drought gripped 51.9 percent of the contiguous 48 states in the week ended March 19, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor in Lincoln, Nebraska. The two worst categories cover 16.9 percent of the area, up from 16.5 percent last week.
Last summer’s dryness across the Midwest and Great Plains was the worst since the Dust Bowl years of the 1930s, responsible for livestock losses brought on by feed shortages and shipping restrictions caused by low channels in the Missouri, Mississippi and Ohio rivers. It also meant a record payout on crop insurance, with farmers collecting $14.7 billion as of Feb. 18, according to the Agriculture Department.
"The deficits in the soil are very large and it’s very unlikely that seasonal precipitation will ameliorate them," O’Lenic said today on a conference call with reporters.
The Midwest and Great Lakes may experience above-average rainfall from April through June, according to the center. The area from California through Texas and along the U.S. Gulf Coast may experience below-normal rain.