NEW YORK (Reuters) - El Nino is almost certain to last through the Northern Hemisphere summer, according to the U.S. weather forecaster, raising the chance of heavy rain in South America and scorching heat in Asia that could devastate crops of thirsty food staples like rice.
In its monthly report released on Thursday, the National Weather Service's Climate Prediction Center (CPC) said El Nino, a phenomenon which warms sea-surface temperatures in the Pacific, had a 90 percent likelihood of continuing through the summer. In April it estimated the odds at 70 percent.
El Nino conditions will likely last through the end of the year, the CPC said, pegging the chance at 80 percent.
Japan's meteorologists said El Nino could continue into autumn, while Australia this week warned of a “significant” weather event.
El Nino often brings extreme heat across Asia and East Africa and floods in South America. A strong El Nino last appeared in 2009-2010 and resulted in significant spikes in sugar, cocoa and wheat prices.
"[El Nino]'s definitely upon us and it should remain so for the next few months," said Don Keeney, a meteorologist with Maryland-based MDA Weather Services. "With an El Nino, things tend to get a little volatile in the markets."
The report helped cocoa futures prices move higher on Thursday, due to prospects for drier weather in top-growing region West Africa, said Nick Gentile, managing partner of NickJen Capital in New York.
The CPC report said that by early May weak to moderate El Nino conditions were reflected across the equatorial Pacific and were corroborated by the tropical atmospheric response.
The CPC said there was still "considerable uncertainty" about the potential strength of the event.
El Nino reduces the likelihood of a busy hurricane season, which lasts from June to November and can disrupt energy operations in the Gulf of Mexico.
To read the full CPC report, click http://1.usa.gov/1l5XUb3
(Reporting by Marcy Nicholson, Chris Prentice and Luc Cohen in New York; Editing by Alden Bentley and Lisa Von Ahn)