It's still far too early to say the drought that has gripped the lower Southeast for more than a year has broken, but conditions have improved significantly, thanks to plentiful rainfall during the winter and early spring.

For the first time since May 2007, no part of the United States is categorized as being in an “exceptional” drought, the most severe category, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. This includes Alabama and Tennessee, where exceptional drought conditions continued to linger into 2008.

The U.S. Drought Monitor's final report of March states that on the heels of recent rains, slow and steady improvement continues for many parts of the Southeast. Heavy rains like those seen in the Mississippi and Ohio River valleys have missed the core drought region thus far.

The report warns, however, that “impressive, long-term deficits” still remain and hydrologic recovery typically lags the immediate short-term benefits seen with the greening up of spring.

Other changes in the region include the improvement) of drought conditions on the western and northern edges in Mississippi and Tennessee and extreme western North Carolina.

To the south in Florida, some heavier rains in the southern peninsula (Everglades region) totaled anywhere from 2 to 4 inches, leading to the removal of the “extreme” drought that was centered off the western shore counties of Lake Okeechobee. Other improvements here include an improvement on the eastern and northern shores of the lake as well. But long-term dryness is still reflected by low groundwater levels as far south and east as Dade County.

In Georgia, the official start of spring found soil moisture conditions were rated at 2 percent very short, 6 percent short, 75 percent adequate and 17 percent surplus.

Recent rains in the state have benefited pastures and other crops, but more rain is needed to achieve adequate subsoil moisture levels, according to the Georgia Agricultural Statistics Service.

Small grains were growing rapidly in Georgia in late March, and no major insect or disease problems were being found in wheat. Although some sulfur deficiencies were seen in sandy land. Greenhouse tobacco plants were reported in good condition.

Where soil temperatures were high enough, planting was under way for corn and fresh market vegetables in Georgia in late March. Other activities included preparing land for corn and tobacco planting, spreading poultry litter, controlling pasture weeds, feeding hay for livestock, and the routine care of poultry and livestock.