By Chris Prentice
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Even as the El Nino weather phenomenon continues to impact global temperatures and crops, its counterpart La Nina is increasingly expected to emerge in the coming months for the first time in four years.
The return of La Nina, Spanish for "the girl" and characterized by unusually cold ocean temperatures, is possible later this year, the U.S. government forecaster said Thursday. It joined other forecasters in projecting La Nina could follow on the heels of one of the strongest El Ninos on record.
Weather models indicate La Nina conditions, which tend to occur unpredictably every two to seven years, may emerge in the Northern Hemisphere fall, while El Nino - which means "the little boy" in Spanish - is expected to dissipate during the late spring or early summer, the National Weather Service's Climate Prediction Center (CPC) said in its monthly forecast.
The phenomenon can be less damaging than El Nino, but severe La Ninas are linked to floods, droughts and hurricanes.
Even though CPC is not on official watch for La Nina, the probability is trending towards one, said Michelle L'Heureux, a CPC climate scientist and El Nino/La Nina expert.
When La Nina last appeared from August 2011 to March 2012, it hurt corn and soybean crops in Argentina and Brazil, brought the worst drought in a century to Texas and increased the number of storms that threatened U.S. coastal regions, like Hurricane Irene.
Energy and agricultural commodities have been roiled by the current and much-watched El Nino, which involves a pattern of warmer ocean surface temperatures in the eastern and central Pacific every few years.
Over the last year, El Nino has parched fields in the Philippines and Indonesia, brought unseasonable rains to areas of South America, driven up global food prices, and caused flash floods in Somalia that destroyed thousands of homes.
El Nino is likely to keep affecting temperature and precipitation patterns across the United States in the upcoming months, CPC said in its forecast.
"As we get into the spring, we'd still expect to see some influence. Folks need to keep their eyes on El Nino," CPC's L'Heureux said.
(Editing by Lisa Von Ahn and Bernadette Baum)