NEW YORK (Reuters) - A U.S. government weather forecaster said Thursday La Nina conditions were no longer likely to develop during the Northern Hemisphere fall and winter 2016/17, saying neutral conditions were more likely.
The Climate Prediction Center (CPC), an agency of the National Weather Service, said in a monthly forecast there was a 55 to 60 percent chance of El Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) neutral conditions, meaning La Nina was no longer favored to occur.
Last month, CPC said La Nina conditions were slightly favored to occur, with a 55 to 60 percent chance of developing during the fall and winter of 2016/17.
La Nina, which tends to occur unpredictably every two to seven years, is characterized by unusually cold temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean.
The CPC's predictions follow a damaging El Nino weather period. While typically less harsh than El Nino, severe La Nina occurrences have been linked to floods and droughts that can roil commodity markets.
The reduced chances of La Nina will be welcomed by producers of corn and soybeans in Brazil and Argentina, where La Nina conditions can cause dry weather that hurts harvests, said Donald Keeney, senior agricultural meteorologist with Maryland-based MDA Information Systems.
"It would certainly benefit South America... they would see wetter conditions there," Keeney said, adding that rubber producers in Indonesia could also benefit.
But the return of neutral conditions could harm cotton growers in India, the world's largest producer of the fiber. La Nina tends to boost monsoon rains, and fading La Nina forecasts have led to lower precipitation expectations.
Keeney said the adjusted forecast could mean better chances of winter precipitation in drought-stricken California, but that it was too early to say for sure.
The CPC first warned that La Nina could develop in February, and maintained that such conditions were likely in each monthly forecast since then.
In June, the agency said there was a 75 percent chance La Nina would develop, though it lowered that outlook in subsequent months.
It said Thursday the average of its models favored "borderline neutral-La Nina Conditions," but added that its more recent models more strongly favored ENSO-neutral conditions.
(Reporting by Luc Cohen; Editing by Bernadette Baum)