By Michael Hirtzer
CHICAGO (Reuters) - Drought worsened in the Midwest during the last week as record-high temperatures stressed the developing corn and soybean crops, while cotton and pastures eroded amid a historic drought in the southern Plains.
Nearly 38 percent of the Midwest was "abnormally dry" as of August 2, the climatologists said in a weekly report, the most since December 2008.
Temperatures in the past week hit record highs from the Plains to the East Coast, in some cases rising above 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius) for the first time in more than 20 years.
"Exceptional drought" decreased modestly in Texas, the epicenter of the worst drought in decades, where 73.5 percent of the state was suffering from that most severe category, according to the weekly U.S. Drought Monitor, produced by a consortium of national climate experts.
Nearly 45 percent of Iowa, the top corn and soybean growing state, was "abnormally dry" and roughly 19 percent of Indiana was now suffering from "moderate drought," the report stated.
"The Midwest's problems were compounded by the fact that for some corn and soybeans, the heat wave coincided with the reproductive stage of development," the report said.
The scorching temperatures pushed Chicago Board of Trade corn futures up their 30-cent daily limit earlier this week before outlooks for cooler and wetter weather in the coming days helped pull prices down.
Excessive rains stalled corn and soybean plantings this past spring in some of the same areas now being hit by drought, and many analysts expect lower yields during harvest as a result.
DROUGHT INTENSIFIES IN OKLAHOMA
While the most severe drought lessened slightly in Texas, it worsened in neighboring Oklahoma where "exceptional drought" covered 64.3 percent of the state, up from 52.2 percent a week earlier.
Wildfires were reported in Oklahoma while the U.S. Agriculture Department this week rated the state's emerging cotton crop at 88 percent poor to very poor.
Parts of Texas received rain showers of up to 5 inches in recent days, providing some relief in what has been called the most severe one-year drought ever in the Lone Star State.
Cattle ranchers in the region have sold the animals to feedlots because there is no pasture in which to graze, while some farmers have abandoned corn acreage due to the dry weather.
"This historic drought has depleted water resources, leaving our state's farmers and ranchers in a state of dire need," said Texas agriculture commissioner Todd Staples. "The damage to our economy is already measured in billions of dollars and continues to mount."
(Additional reporting by Julie Ingwersen; Editing by John Picinich)