HOUSTON, NOV. 26 -- After two weeks of declines, the number of working oil and gas rigs in the United States rebounded by 72 this week to bring the total to 1,175 nationwide, Baker Hughes Inc. reported today.

"Some of that clearly is improvement of the weather that had been bad for the past two weeks, particularly in Oklahoma," said Ike Kerridge, a vice president at the tool company that keeps the count. "But it also relates to the seasonal upturn expected during the last quarter of the year."

The number of rigs had fallen by 41 over the past two weeks, following heavy rains in the Oklahoma area. A year ago this week, the number of working rigs was 1,037.

Kerridge said he could not forecast changes in the count but thinks it will grow in December because drillers will be using any remaining funds in calendar-year budgets.

"I still expect to see a rig count around 1,250 in December, but whether that will be at the beginning of the month or the middle or the end, I can't say," Kerridge said. "The weather and the random movement of rigs that can effect it makes it impossible to predict on a week-by-week basis."

Decreases in the previous weeks came on the heels of a milestone earlier in the month when the number of working rigs rose to 1,144 -- a figure not seen since Dec. 28, 1987.

Baker Hughes has kept track of the rig count -- the widely watched index of drilling activity -- since 1940. The count represents the number of rigs actively exploring for oil, not those producing oil.

At the height of the oil boom in December 1981, the count reached a peak of 4,500. But the rig count plunged to a low of 663 after oil prices collapsed in the summer of 1986.

Texas led the major oil producing states for the week by adding 23 rigs to the count. It was followed by Oklahoma, whose count increased by 16, and Louisiana, which added 11 rigs.

Other major oil producing states reporting increases for the week include California, whose total was up by nine; Wyoming, adding eight; Colorado, adding six; Kansas, which increased by four; New Mexico, up three; and Michigan and North Dakota, which each added a rig.

Ohio was the only major oil producing state to report a loss for the week, dropping by one. The count in Pennsylvania remained unchanged.

On the New York Mercantile Exchange, the benchmark West Texas Intermediate crude for January delivery today climbed $1.05 over Friday's close to $32.95 a barrel.