By Ed Stoddard
JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - An El Nino weather pattern which has triggered historic drought in South Africa remains on track to keep conditions hot and dry for the rest of the summer over most of the country including the maize belt, the country's weather service said on Friday.
South African maize prices have raced to record highs because of the drought, which the central bank once again cited on Thursday as a concern driving food prices and inflation when it raised interest rates by 50 basis points.
"Most models are showing the continuation of a strong El Nino episode toward the late-summer season with the expectation to start gradually decaying during the autumn and early winter seasons," the service said in its monthly outlook, which gives rolling forecasts for the following five months.
"Other international forecasting systems also similarly indicate a tendency of drier and warmer conditions for South Africa," it said.
The only change from the December outlook is that the likelihood of above-average temperatures and below-average rainfall has decreased slightly, said Cobus Olivier, a prediction scientist at the South African Weather Service.
"But the main expectation remains for drier conditions," he said.
This scenario applies to the regions of South Africa that typically get summer rains including the fertile maize belt which stretches east and west from Johannesburg.
South Africa last year recorded its lowest rainfall levels since records began in 1904 and the staple maize crop is likely to come in at 7.44 million tonnes, 25 percent lower than last year, a government agency said on Wednesday.
Late rains prompted some maize farmers in the western regions to plant two months late.
But the weather service noted that "rainfall events may still occur, as is the norm for the summer season. However, extreme high temperatures which cause high evaporation, may worsen the current drought conditions."
(Editing by James Macharia/Jeremy Gaunt.)