LIMA (Reuters) - Peru now expects the El Niño weather pattern, a phenomenon associated with extreme droughts, storms and floods, to become "moderate" in the coming months instead of "strong" as previously forecast, a government scientist said on Wednesday.
The likelihood of El Niño shaping up to be as disastrous as in 1997-98 is now "very low," said Ken Takahashi, the lead El Niño investigator at Peru's Geophysical Institute.
"During the anomaly of 1997, coastal temperatures in Peru were almost double what they are now, so it would be very difficult to reach those levels," Takahashi said.
Enfen, the Peruvian bureau tasked with forecasting El Niño, had previously forecast a 50 percent chance of a "strong" El Niño in the summer, which spans from December to March in the Southern Hemisphere. It now sees a 35 percent chance it will be strong and a 50 percent chance it will become moderate.
However, Takahashi said El Niño could still bring heavy rains, especially to Peru's northern coast, and may cause a drought in Andean regions.
Australia has also said that the event has shown signs of easing.
A naturally occurring phenomenon, which can have widespread effects on agriculture, fisheries, water and health, El Niño is driven by warm surface water in the eastern Pacific Ocean.
The World Meteorological Organization said last month that the current El Niño was already "strong and mature" and the biggest in more than 15 years.
(Reporting by Mitra Taj; Editing by Tom Brown)