LINCOLN, NEB. — The area of the contiguous United States in moderate drought or worse fell below 50% for the first time since June 19, 2012, according to the latest edition of the U.S. Drought Monitor released April 18. Heavy precipitation across the Plains and the upper Midwest continued to ease drought. The area of the lower 48 states in moderate drought or worse declined to 47.82%, from 50.82% a week ago.

“We’ve been on a steady but slow recovery path from drought since the peak in September 2012,” said Mark Svoboda, University of Nebraska-Lincoln climatologist and a founding author of the Monitor. “We’ve seen a much more active weather pattern lately across the mid-section of the country, which has been eroding the intensity of drought as we head into spring. This is exactly what we needed.”

In the Midwest, heavy rains soaked into thawing soils and reduced drought in Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin and Missouri, according to this week’s report. The area of the Midwest in moderate drought or worse declined to 20.94% from 32.24%.

In the Plains, drought receded in eastern Oklahoma, eastern Kansas, extreme eastern Nebraska and the Nebraska Panhandle, and most of the Dakotas. An area of exceptional drought, the worst category within the context of The Drought Monitor, was eliminated from South Dakota. Heavy rains also improved conditions in Georgia, South Carolina and Florida. But decent precipitation eluded Texas and Arizona, which were among the few areas where drought got worse.