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(Reuters) - The U.S. national weather forecaster still expects the much-feared El Niño phenomenon, which can wreak havoc on global weather, to remain weak into the Northern Hemisphere winter, even after its development slowed last month.
In its monthly assessment, the Climate Prediction Center (CPC) said on Thursday it is still not clear whether a fully fledged El Niño would emerge, although there is a "possibility" it will strengthen over the next few months.
The report further reduces the risk of a major drought in Asia, which produces some of the world's major food staples, such as sugar cane and grains. The CPC first raised its El Niño alert four months ago.
A strong El Niño, essentially a warming of waters in the equatorial Pacific Ocean, can cause widespread drought in Australia, parts of Africa, Southeast Asia and India, but also bring rains to other parts of the globe.
Based on the CPC's outlook, this year could be on par with previous less-disruptive episodes in 2004-05 and 2006-07 and far off a repeat of 2009 when drought damaged crops across Asia.
"During September, the trend towards El Niño slowed in several key oceanic and atmospheric indicators.... The atmosphere and ocean indicate borderline ... neutral/weak El Niño conditions," it said.
Last month, the CPC forecast the phenomenon would develop weakly in September and persist through February of next year. In Thursday's update, it did not give an estimate for how long the conditions may last.
Reporting By Josephine Mason; Editing by Gerald E. McCormick and Gunna Dickson