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Weather cools but drought persists in U.S. South

By Carey Gillam

KANSAS CITY (Reuters) - Milder temperatures moved into the central United States over the last week, offering some relief from scorching heat, but drought-hit Texas and neighboring states remained desperate for rain.

"The cooler temperatures helped," said climatologist Mark Svoboda of the University of Nebraska's Drought Mitigation Center. "The rain did not really materialize."

Texas continued to be the epicenter of historic drought, as wildfires raged through the state and water shortages devastated crop production and livestock herds.

The big agricultural state is suffering from the longest dry period on record with losses estimated at more than $5 billion.

Nearly 88 percent of Texas now ranks as suffering from "exceptional" drought, the highest level reported, according to a weekly report dubbed the U.S. Drought Monitor that was issued Thursday by a consortium of state and federal climatologists.

A week ago, an estimated 81 percent of the Lone Star State was rated in the worst category.

"It is really sad when you look at the impacts," Svoboda said of the conditions in Texas.

From June through August, Texas suffered the hottest three months ever recorded in the history of the United States, according to the National Weather Service. And the 12 months ending on August 31 were the driest 12 months in Texas history, with most of the state receiving just 21 percent of its annual average rainfall.

There are forecasts for rainfall in the Plains over the next four days, with 1 to 2 inches or precipitation possible. But the rain would largely miss Texas, favoring Oklahoma, Kansas and areas more to the north, said Svoboda.

Oklahoma also continued to struggle with drought, and the area of the state in both "extreme" and "exceptional" levels of drought expanded to 92.59 percent in the past week from 85.44 percent in the prior week, according to the Drought Monitor.

Drought remained a problem for western parts of Louisiana, but did not expand over the last week in that state, the Drought Monitor said. Conditions likewise held about even in New Mexico, where more than 72 percent of the state was rated in extreme and exceptional drought.

(Reporting by Carey Gillam; Editing by John Picinich)