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March 11 (Bloomberg) -- The winter of 2012-2013 had above-average precipitation, providing some optimism for crop yields amid a historic drought.

The average temperature for December through February was 34.3 degrees Fahrenheit (1.3 Celsius) in the contiguous 48 states, 1.9 degrees above the 20th-century average, making the season the 20th-warmest on records going back to 1895, according to the State of the Climate report issued by the National Climatic Data Center.

Precipitation for the three months that constitute meteorological winter was 7.1 inches, 0.63 inch above the average of the past century, said the center, a unit of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Major storms in February helped that month reach near-average moisture.

“The general thinking is this is all good for resolving drought conditions in the U.S. and increasing yields of corn and wheat,” said Gail Martell, president of Martell Crop Projections in Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin. “Not all of that moisture was absorbed. In the Upper Midwest, a lot of the soil is still frozen.”

At the end of February, 54.2 percent of the contiguous U.S. was experiencing moderate-to-exceptional drought, a smaller area than the 57.7 percent at the end of January, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Those dryness levels covered 62.7 percent of the region in November, double the extent of the previous year. It’s been the worst drought since the 1930s.

Mixed Blessing

The wetter weather could be a mixed blessing, Martell said. Warming temperatures high above the equatorial Pacific may mean wetness continuing into the spring and possibly delaying planting season at the end of April. Calendar spring for the Northern Hemisphere begins March 20.

“The wetness could get to be too much of a good thing,” she said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Dan Murtaugh in Houston at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Dan Stets at

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