OMAHA, Neb. — The remnants of Hurricane Isaac could bring welcome rain to some states in the Mississippi River valley this week, but experts say it's unlikely to break the drought gripping the Midwest.
Along with the deluge of rain expected along the Gulf Coast, the National Weather Service predicted 2 to 6 inches of rain will fall by Sunday morning in eastern Arkansas and southeast Missouri, much of Illinois and Indiana and parts of Ohio.
Those areas are among those hard hit by the drought that stretches from the West Coast east into Kentucky and Ohio, with pockets in Georgia and Alabama. The rain that falls inland likely will ease, but not eliminate, drought because those areas are so dry, said Mark Svoboda, a climatologist with the National Drought Mitigation Center.
Arkansas rancher Don Rodgers said his area is short 17 inches of rain this year. He said even a couple of inches from Isaac would make a significant difference because he would have water for his cattle and might be able to grow some forage for this winter.
"I'm very sorry for the people in the path of this hurricane. I'm just praying we can get some of the benefit from it up here," said Rodgers, who lives in Crawford County, a rural area near the Oklahoma border.
Heavy rain, especially if the storm pushes into the Ohio River Valley, would improve traffic on the Mississippi River, where low water levels have been a problem for weeks, National Weather Service hydrologist Marty Pope said. Pope said any rise in the river would help clear clogged shipping channels, which have caused temporary closures.
"If that happens, it would help us out quite a bit," Pope said.
The low water levels also have prompted companies to reduce loads on barges carrying goods ranging from grain to gasoline, which can mean big losses for shippers.
Port of Greenville, Miss., director Tommy Hart said he has been praying for rain for weeks but it's not clear yet how much Isaac will help.
"I may have prayed too hard, I don't need a hurricane," he said.
More than half of all U.S. counties have been identified as natural disaster areas this summer, mostly because of drought. Conditions are especially bad in the corn belt. Nearly all of Nebraska, Illinois, Kansas, Missouri and more than two-thirds of Iowa are in the worst two stages of drought.
But Svoboda said a high pressure system over the Great Plains this week will keep Isaac's moisture from reaching much of that area. And Iowa may be too far north to see significant rainfall since the storm will have dropped much of the moisture it picked up in the gulf by the time it hits there.