By Carey Gillam
Oct 18 (Reuters) - Drought retreated across many areas of the United States over the last week as storm systems pushed through parched areas, bringing coast-to-coast relief from record-breaking dry conditions.
Roughly 62.39 percent of the contiguous United States was experiencing at least "moderate" drought as of Oct. 16, down from 63.55 percent a week earlier, according to Thursday's Drought Monitor, a weekly compilation of data gathered by federal and academic scientists.
The portion of the United States under "exceptional" drought - the direst classification - fell to 5.84 percent, from 6.18 percent a week earlier.
In the High Plains, which include Kansas, Nebraska and the Dakotas, severe or worse drought levels covered 87.42 percent of the region, down from 87.58 percent the prior week. An estimated 27.44 percent of the region was in the worst level of drought, down from 28.24 percent a week earlier.
In Kansas, a top wheat-growing state where farmers are planting a new crop, drought levels improved dramatically. "Extreme" drought, the second-worst level, shrank to 77.80 percent from 95.70 percent of the state, while the worst level fell to 39.69 percent, from 44.63 percent.
In Oklahoma, also key to wheat production, several inches of rain helped reduce extreme drought areas to 66.75 percent of the state, from 80.57 percent.
Hard-hit Nebraska, which suffered its third-driest September on record, saw extreme drought decline to 95.31 percent of the state from 97.94 percent. All other levels held steady, with 77.58 percent of that state still locked in exceptional drought.
South Dakota missed out, as extreme drought expanded to 57.21 percent of the state from 52.65 percent the prior week.
The National Weather Service forecasts a fairly wet pattern across the northern tier of the contiguous 48 states and some rains across the Midwest over the next few days.
Particularly wet conditions are likely across the Pacific Northwest and from the Tennessee Valley to the Great Lakes and across the Northeast. Minimal amounts of rainfall are likely across the Southeast, Rockies and Southwest.
(Reporting by Carey Gillam in Kansas City; Editing by Dale Hudson)