Mother Nature Turns Fickle With Drought and Flooding

A sudden shift in weather patterns through the nation's midsection and the Western states, brought some relief for farmers hit by a record drought and firefighters battling wildfires.

Torrential rain sent rivers in the Midwest over their banks, forcing hundreds of evacuations and turning cornfields and playgrounds into muddy lakes.

A storm system that dumped as much as 9 inches of rain on the region since April 28 moved east and south, leaving scattered showers in its wake and a trail of flooded homes. Many waterways were several feet over flood stage and were expected to keep rising. Four deaths in Missouri were blamed on the flooding.

Across the Mississippi River in East St. Louis, Ill., where 8 inches of rain fell, officials evacuated about 400 homes and 163 nursing-home residents. Emergency workers brought in powerful pumps as water threatened an additional 500 homes

MEANWHILE, wheat and corn futures prices nose-dived April 29 on the Chicago Board of Trade after the unexpectedly heavy rains doused a two-week rally that had sent prices to unprecedented levels because of concerns over tight supplies.

The rain sent investors scrambling to get out of a wheat market that had seen prices surge 18 percent last week amid expectations the upcoming harvest will be one of the worst in 50 years.

Crops in the nation's breadbasket have been hurt this winter and spring by the second-worst drought situation in 100 years, Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman said.

Analysts said moisture could have provided a late boost to the crops, which the Agriculture Department said were 46 percent poor to very poor, compared to 45 percent a week ago.

Prices also fell amid perceptions the rain could help spring plantings. The USDA reported 10 percent of spring wheat had been planted as of last week, compared to 12 percent a year ago and an average 35 percent.

The market faced additional pressure April 30 on the USDA's report that spring corn plantings are above normal pace. Twenty-two percent of the crop is in the ground compared to 9 percent last year and 16 percent normally.

Cooler temperatures and an wind shift helped firefighters who burned brush in the path of flames to keep a 14,600-acre blaze from the Los Alamos, New Mexico nuclear weapons lab and ancient Indian ruins. Nearly 900 firefighters battled the advancing flames, and tanker planes dropped fire-retardant from the air. National Forest Service officials say they don't expect to contain the fire for a week.

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