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      U.S. Drought Falls Below 50 Percent

      The drought that has had most of the United States in its grip for nearly a year has begun to shrink.

      The area of the contiguous United States in moderate or more severe drought has dropped below 50 percent for the first time since June 19, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor released Thursday. Thanks to the heavy precipitation that has reached parts of the Plains and upper Midwest, the areas considered to still be in moderate drought or worse has declined to 47.82 percent.

      "We've been on a steady but slow recovery path fromdrought since the peak in September 2012," said Mark Svoboda, Universityof Nebraska-Lincoln climatologist and a founding author of the monitor."We've seen a much more active weather pattern lately across the midsectionof the country, which has been eroding the intensity of drought as we head intospring. This is exactly what we needed."

      Svoboda, however, cautioned that more improvements need to come before the hot, dry season sets in.

      Nebraska saw the drought recede in the extreme eastern part of the state as well as in the Panhandle, but most of the state remains in extreme drought.

      The U.S. Drought Monitor map is jointly produced by theNational Drought Mitigation Center at UNL, the National Oceanic and AtmosphericAdministration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and about 350 droughtobservers across the United States. The map is released each Thursday based ondata through the previous Tuesday morning.

      Go to http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu to view the most recent map.

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