* Some showers help cushion harsh drought
* More heat expected in the central and southwest
* Tropical storm near Caribbean bears watching
By Sam Nelson
CHICAGO, Aug 2 (Reuters) - Light showers with some locally heavier amounts fell on the U.S. Midwest crop belt overnight, which will provide some relief to crops and livestock from the worst drought in a half century, an agricultural meteorologist said Thursday.
"There were some 1-inch rains in areas of Nebraska, Kansas and southern Minnesota, and the usual 0.10 to 0.50 inch elsewhere," said Andy Karst, meteorologist for World Weather Inc.
Another buildup of heat was expected next week in the central and western Midwest, with highs in the 90s to 100 degrees Fahrenheit, which will add further stress to crops.
But, "We may be shifting gears. Tropical Depression 5 which is east of the Caribbean Sea now may land in Texas. That is about 10 days away, but that could have an impact on Midwest weather. We'll have keep an eye on that," he said.
If the tropical storm intensifies and makes landfall on the U.S. Coast, there could be some drought-relieving rainfall in mid-August for the Midwest.
However, it would come too late to benefit the corn crop and most of the soybean crop.
Weather forecasting models that meteorologists use to make their predictions were in agreement on Thursday, in contrast to some days when the European and U.S. models showed divergent patterns.
"There isn't a striking difference today. The GFS (U.S.) model has a stronger ridge of high pressure than the European model, but unlike some days they're aligned pretty well today," Karst said.
An atmospheric high pressure ridge centered over the Plains and Midwest has been blocking moisture from moving from the Gulf into the Midwest, leading to a buildup of heat and drought.
Commodity Weather Group (CWG) on Thursday said temperatures would warm into the 90s F for all but the northwestern corner of the Midwest by Friday and Saturday, with 100s F most likely in Missouri and Kansas.
And the extended outlook for later next week remained near to above normal for temperatures with the severe heat retreating to mainly the Plains.
Chicago Board of Trade corn and soybean futures prices soared to record highs in July and turned volatile this week as weather patterns began to indicate some moderation in the severity of the drought.
The spreading drought has been cutting into crop conditions and analysts have been slashing production prospects for corn and soybeans almost daily.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Monday rated 24 percent of the corn crop in good-to-excellent condition as of Sunday, and 29 percent of the soybean crop in good-to-excellent shape, both down 2 percentage points from the previous week.
The ratings for each were the worst since the comparable week in 1988, another year of severe drought in the nation's crop-growing mid-section.
Graphic on corn: http://r.reuters.com/muj29s
Graphic on soybean: http://r.reuters.com/nuj29s ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^>
Analysts and crop experts said further declines in condition ratings could be expected next week because the weather still stressed each crop.
The domestic corn crop shrunk another 2.5 percent over the past week, but the modest decline suggested damage from drought may be nearing an end, a Reuters poll of analysts showed on Tuesday.
The soybean crop was likewise getting smaller. Hot and dry weather forecast for the Midwest farm belt for the next two weeks could do more damage to the crop, according to the analysts. (Reporting By Sam Nelson)